Belfast Telegraph

Royal Ulster Agricultural Society members set to vote on Balmoral Show move to Maze site

By Linda Stewart

Some 3,000 members of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society hold the balance of power on whether the Balmoral Show will move to a new home at the former Maze Prison.

Advanced proposals for the move from its cramped home at the King’s Hall — termed the Legacy Project — are to be put to the vote at an Extraordinary General Meeting on June 12.

If they get the thumbs up, RUAS will be putting in an Article 31 planning application to start developing the Maze site in readiness for next year's show.

Chief executive Colin McDonald (right) has updated members of the Assembly's OFMDFM committee on the ambitious plans to move to a new site after more than 100 years at the Balmoral Showgrounds in south Belfast.

The former prison site takes in 360 acres, 65 of which would become the Balmoral Show's new home. Visitors will be relieved to hear that the spacious site has room for more than 10,000 cars directly adjacent to the showgrounds, as well as on-site parking for coaches and rail link shuttle buses to ease traffic flow.

The increased space will allow activities that the current site is unable to accommodate.

The RUAS says its priority is to have direct access from the M1, removing the congestion associated with the current gridlocked south Belfast site.

Mr McDonald said that if the plan gets the go-ahead from members, the planning application would needed to be fast-tracked in order to have a decision by September this year.

If those plans are given the green light, work would begin on building the entrance canopy and marketplace at the site entrance, the main arena and some accommodation for horses.

And if the finance becomes available, the RUAS will be able to embark on Phase 2 – creating a hub of international activity helping to attract international agri-food business to the Maze and pump priming the creation of a Centre of Rural Excellence. That could become a home to organisations such as the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, Ulster Farmers’ Union and Ulster Wildlife Trust.

Meanwhile, the RUAS proposes to retain ownership of the front end of the Balmoral Showgrounds, including the King's Hall and surrounding land.

“The King's Hall, Nugent and Balmoral halls will be radically transformed. Whilst maintaining the integrity of their exteriors in keeping with listed status, the interiors will become part of the new digital age,” Mr McDonald said.

“These buildings, which are so familiar to all of us, will become home to a new generation digital hub enabling connections throughout the world.

“Core to this development will be the King's Hall itself which will house blue chip companies of global renown.”

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