Belfast Telegraph

Casement Park ruling judge demands candour from Stormont in future

By Alan Erwin

A High Court judge who quashed the granting of planning permission for a 38,000-seat GAA stadium in west Belfast has demanded "complete candour" from Stormont in future legal challenges.

Mr Justice Horner made his call as he rejected a claim by Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin that counsel for the Department of the Environment may not have been completely "au fait" with Government accountability.

He stressed that Dr Tony McGleenan QC had acted "impeccably" in the hearing into the Casement Park redevelopment.

Construction of the £77m stadium is now facing major delay after the judge held that Environment Minister Mark H Durkan acted unlawfully in approving it.

The process was found to be flawed, with failures identified in the environmental impact assessment and an unrealistic reliance on an existing 32,600 capacity as a baseline for the expansion.

Dr McGleenan had warned during the case that more than £60m allocated to the redevelopment would be returned to the Stormont Executive if planning permission was overturned.

But earlier this week Miss Ni Chuilin insisted the funding had been ring-fenced. With her comments raised in court, Dr McGleenan said he did not want to "raise the temperature" further.

But it was made clear that his contention was based on a sworn statement from the then permanent secretary at Miss Ni Chuilin's department.

Returning to the issue yesterday, Mr Justice Horner said anyone swearing an affidavit owed a duty of candour to the court.

That obligation continues throughout the proceedings, he added.

In a reference to the Sports Minister's comments the judge continued: "Dr McGleenan, who has conducted the case impeccably on behalf of the department, has been accused, I'm informed, of not being au fait with Government accountability when he said the failure of the current planning application would lead to £61.4m of Government funding returning to the exchequer.

"I do not (consider) that the misunderstanding lies with senior counsel.

"I must stress the importance of complete candour in these applications to ensure the court can impose the necessary confidence in any deponent, whether it's a deponent on behalf of the Government or on behalf of the applicant.

"I'm not going to take the matter any further, but I just make it absolutely clear that in future there must be complete candour on all sides."

The successful challenge to the Casement Park project was brought by the local Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents' Association (Mora).

Setting out his reasons for quashing the planning permission, Mr Justice Horner acknowledged the outcome could have been different if the case had just been about Japanese knotweed or about asbestos.

But, factoring in the other issues, he said he could not make any other order.

Under the terms of a protective costs order agreed earlier in the case, the Department of the Environment only has to pay £35,000 of the residents' legal fees relating to the case.

A lawyer for Mora also told the court that he had been instructed to avoid seeking any court costs from the GAA.

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