Belfast Telegraph

Stadium plans hit by political logjam, warns Glentoran Glens chief

By Steven Beacom

Sport has become an "unwitting victim" of the collapse of Stormont's power-sharing Executive, the chairman of Glentoran FC has said.

Stephen Henderson outlined his concerns about how the political impasse could have a major impact on redeveloping stadiums such as The Oval and Casement Park.

As talks continue over restoring the Executive, Henderson said his club have been left in limbo over the future of their ground in east Belfast.

He claimed that every day without an Executive, thousands of pounds are being lost due to rising building costs.

And he warned that, should the country return to direct rule, public funding to stadiums here could be lost altogether.

Glentoran are due to receive £10m under the Government funding programme for sports stadia, allowing the club to redevelop a new 8,000 capacity stadium. A £36m raft of Government funding for local football ground development - with the Glens receiving just under a third of it - was due to be announced before Christmas.

But it was put on hold amid legal concerns, with the department aiming to ensure that every detail was watertight against any legal challenge or judicial review application from clubs unhappy with their share of the pot.

Then came the collapse of Stormont, which delayed the release of funding even further.

Henderson said that the sooner the Northern Ireland Executive is up and running, the better. "We are in limbo until we find out exactly what's happening with political talks ongoing," he said. "If a new Executive is formed and they get through the difficulties and appoint ministers we would be very hopeful that the scheme could be good to go as soon as the new minister is appointed, as it's now over a year since the public consultation took place on the scheme.

"If there is no agreement and no Executive can be formed and we go to a second election, I imagine nothing can happen until the results of that second election and then talks continue again.

"If it goes back to direct rule, then ultimately it will be the NIO who will take over the responsibility and have the ability in theory to push forward any budgetary commitments, but whether or not they take a fresh look at things is anybody's guess.

"There's always a danger that the money could be lost when you have a change of administration and the priorities are different. On the other hand, the money is ring-fenced within the Executive budget, so the money is committed.

"If the money is pulled on Irish League stadiums it may also be pulled on Casement Park.

"I don't think the money is going to be lost, but the big concern in all of this is that every day that goes by, build inflation increases so we, or any Irish League club, will be able to build less with the amount of money that is being allocated. There are thousands of pounds being lost every day just because building costs are continuing to increase.

"If we have to wait another year until money is released, and I'm talking about all of football and, indeed, Casement Park, the money that is being allocated will build you less of a stadium.

"Sport is one of the unwitting victims of this," he said.

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