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Sports minister urged to set out timetable for stadiums revamp

By David Young

A timetable must be set out for redeveloping Northern Ireland's main sports stadiums to end uncertainty among fans, Sports Minister Nelson McCausland has been told.

Supporters of football, rugby and gaelic games will continue to lose out until the three governing bodies are in a position to upgrade their facilities, Assembly member David McNarry yesterday warned Nelson McCausland.

Consultants hired by Mr McCausland's department are working with the three organisations to finalise plans for modernising Windsor Park soccer stadium, Ravenhill rugby ground and the GAA's Casement Park in west Belfast.

The Government is diverting £110m from the ill-fated Maze multi-sports stadium venture to support the redevelopment of the three existing venues.

Mr McNarry challenged the DUP minister, when he told the culture, arts and leisure committee that he was not certain when the consultants — who are being paid £70,000 — would complete their work.

“The fans out there, the spectators, are very anxious that they have something to look forward to,” the Ulster Unionist Strangford MLA said.

“Now, whatever happened at the Maze project, the fans lost out. Whatever's going on at Windsor Park, the fans are losing out. Whatever has been happening in rugby and GAA, obviously the fans are losing out, otherwise we wouldn't have these proposals (from the respective governing bodies).

“What the fans are saying to me is, when are you actually going to be able to give us (a date)?

“Are we talking about next year, the year after? Because you are governed by budget and the end of the Assembly is next year, so is it going to be in the lifetime of the Assembly that you think you might be able to give a date?”

Mr McCausland said consultants were close to finalising the plans and stressed the importance of getting the proposals right,

even if that takes some extra time. “I am not anticipating that the consultants are going to take that much longer, but I wouldn't want to tie myself down to a week or a month,” he said.

“It is all dependent on the engagement between the sporting bodies and the consultants. It's not entirely down to the consultants, it's also down to the sporting bodies in terms of them providing the right information, getting their own vision, their own structures in place.”

Under the draft proposals, the Irish Football Association is hoping to upgrade Windsor Park to a 20,000 all-seater facility, Ulster Rugby wants to increase capacity at Ravenhill to 15,000, while the GAA is planning a modernisation project at Casement, with a potential 60,000 capacity.

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