Belfast Telegraph

Windsor upgrade just the beginning

By Steven Beacom

For years and years there was talk about upgrading Windsor Park with little being done. Now there seems to be no time to waste.

Planning permission for work to start on the new look 18,000 all seater stadium was granted yesterday by Environment Minister Alex Attwood within just 11 weeks of receiving the application.

That's the fastest ever turnaround for a major planning application.

The Northern Ireland team could do with that sort of quick thinking and pace on the pitch!

So, it's all systems go for the refurbished Windsor Park which will have two new stands where the South Stand and Railway Stand are at present while the North and Kop stands will be extended and updated.

The cost of the project, which will see the Irish FA move their headquarters from Windsor Avenue in Belfast to Windsor Park, is in the region of £29.2million with £25.2 million coming from government funds.

If Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin and the IFA have their way, the re-development of Windsor will be just one part of an enterprising scheme in that area of south Belfast.

Talks are ongoing between Belfast City Council and the IFA about the possibility of having a "sporting village" encompassing Windsor Park, Midgely Park, Olympia Leisure Centre and the Boucher Road playing fields.

Ni Chuilin's ideal scenario is for this to happen in conjunction with the construction at Windsor stating "there needs to be investment in this area".

A feasibility study has already been carried out and the IFA are right behind the idea which would provide a major boost for the local community.

The work on Windsor will begin after Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier at home to Portugal on September 6 with completion set for 2015.

For Ni Chuilin yesterday's announcement regarding planning permission was a key milestone in the development of her regional sports stadiums programme which follows the Executive pledge of up to £110million of government funding for the redevelopment of Ravenhill and Casement Park, as well as Windsor.

She said: "The Irish FA are now able to move to the next stage of their ambition to create a modern stadium to cater for the needs of the whole football community.

"While the modernisation of Windsor Park represents a huge boost for football fans, this project and the others at Ravenhill and Casement are also about building community foundations and providing a catalyst for the regeneration of the areas around the stadiums.

"All of the stadium projects will bring benefits to local communities in terms of job opportunities during and post construction as well as providing wider social benefits in areas such as health and well-being."

Environment Minister Attwood, wearing a Northern Ireland shirt yesterday, added: "This is a tremendous boost for football and for sport here. Planning approval will now lead to the creation of a stadium that is fit for the 21st century.

"This ambitious, exciting project is important in sporting terms to everyone in Northern Ireland and will also create employment opportunities for local people.

"This is why I made sure that we were in a position to turn it around quickly.

"My officials worked with the project team and key consultees for months before the application was submitted, clearing any hurdles.

"This ensured a quality application and therefore a speedy process."

IFA President Jim Shaw also shared his delight at the news.

He said: "This is a great step forward for football in Northern Ireland.

"The national football stadium plans are truly impressive and I know that once the redevelopment project is complete Windsor Park will be a stadium which we will all be proud of."

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