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Casement Park redevelopment may go back to drawing board

By Noel McAdam

Published 29/05/2015

Committee chairman Nelson McCausland  yesterday clashed with officials as his committee continued its investigation into the project
Committee chairman Nelson McCausland  yesterday clashed with officials as his committee continued its investigation into the project

The controversial redevelopment of Casement Park may have to return to the drawing board - including getting new planning permission, an Assembly committee has heard.

A panel assessing the project, which has already cost £5.8m, is considering whether it should start from scratch again, a senior Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) official told MLAs yesterday.

The DUP's David Hilditch suggested the GAA is "probably going to have to go back to the drawing board" because the problems with Casement are now so extensive.

"We have now spent £6m of public money on something that is going to have to be so thoroughly redesigned that it's going to have to seek planning permission again," he added.

DCAL deputy secretary Cyntha Smith said that was among the issues being considered by the project assessment review and minister Caral Ni Chuilin would be guided by its recommendations.

The Sinn Fein minister told the committee last week she was not made aware of safety concerns over the revamp of the west Belfast stadium and had been "shocked and hurt" by allegations that she would put the safety of thousands of spectators and residents at risk.

Her comments came after safety expert Paul Scott said he had been bullied and put under "undue pressure" into passing health and safety plans despite fears the 38,000-capacity stadium could not be vacated safely in an emergency situation. Committee chairman Nelson McCausland  yesterday clashed with officials as his committee continued its investigation into the project.

Ms Smith was unable to say whether DCAL had withdrawn from the safety technical group overseeing the stadium project of which Mr Scott still remains as chair despite claims he would be removed.

Mr McCausland retorted there was no point in officials coming to evidence sessions "if we can't get answers to questions".

Ms Smith also emphasised, however, the stadium will not "open without valid compliant safety certificates".

The DUP chairman inquired whether a stadium which had been built could have a seating capability in excess of what was put on the safety certificate.

Ms Smith replied "the stadium will be capable of meeting the safety certificate requirements in terms of the capacity of the stadium".

More than £67m of public funding is already earmarked for the new Casement Park as part of a Stormont Executive commitment to upgrade outdated sports facilities.

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