Belfast Telegraph

Casement Park: Residents' group facing a legal bill despite winning its High Court challenge to the approval of a new 38,000-seat GAA stadium in the heart of west Belfast

By Alan Erwin

A residents' group is facing a legal bill despite winning its High Court challenge to the approval of a new 38,000-seat GAA stadium in the heart of west Belfast.

Earlier this week a judge ruled Environment Minister Mark H Durkan acted unlawfully in granting planning permission for the £77 million Casement Park redevelopment.

Mr Justice Horner held that the process was "irretrievably flawed", with failures in the environmental impact assessment and the effect of bigger crowds on the surrounding roads network not properly examined.

Lawyers are to return to court tomorrow (THURSDAY) to make further submissions on whether the decision to give the green light to the expansion scheme should now be quashed.

But one issue which has already been determined is how legal fees for one of the longest judicial review cases in recent years are to be met.

A protective costs order agreed at an early stage in proceedings ensured Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents' Association (MORA) would not be left with crippling costs had they ultimately lost the challenge.

Without the financial safeguard they could not have mounted the court action.

However, the terms also mean the Department of the Environment (DoE) only has to pay £35,000 of the group's fees.

With the case having run for 13 days, sources confirmed the bill for MORA's lawyers exceeds that figure. By how much remains unclear.

Meanwhile, the issue of potential remedies remains to be decided.

Equipped with fully modern facilities and corporate resources, the proposed new stadium has emerged as a potential venue in Ireland's bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Funding for the development is to be split, with £62m coming from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and £15m from the GAA.

During the case MORA's lawyers described the scheme as an injustice which would be unacceptable anywhere else in Northern Ireland.

It would be impossible to construct a stadium on that scale which will visually integrate with the existing neighbourhood, it was claimed.

Central to the association's case was the contention that the environmental assessment was defective because it relied on Casement Park's existing 32,600 capacity as a baseline for examining the environmental impact of an increase of just over 5,000 seats.

Mr Justice Horner was told the new stadium would be replacing a ground which hasn't come close to selling out a lower capacity in decades.

Police claims that emergency evacuation of a full house at redeveloped facilities could take up to 47 minutes were also explored.

In his verdict on Monday the judge identified failures in assessing the impact of increased facilities and an unrealistic reliance by the Department on the current capacity as a baseline for the project.

With far fewer spectators normally attending matches at the current ground, the judge found that the effect of bigger crowds on the surrounding roads network was not properly examined.

He said: "This was both an inadequate and unlawful approach and it meant that the likely significant effects of full capacity attendances at the ground were not and could not be adequately assessed."

The judge also pointed to the Minister never being told of PSNI concerns about safety issues around having 38,000 fans attending an event.

Other defects were found in the environmental survey, with no assessment of the impact on local residents of extra stadium facilities such as conference suites, bars, restaurants and car parking.

He further held that there was not proper engagement with home owners about mitigating the risk of any asbestos escaping from the site during demolition and building work.

With the residents insisting they would have no problem with a stadium of between 20,000-25,000 capacity, it remains to be seen whether a compromise can be reached.

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