Fingers crossed for new-look ravenhill
Less than a week after hosting a full Ireland international for the first time in 53 years, the Ulster Branch are hoping to get the green light for the £6m redevelopment of Ravenhill tomorrow.
The Belfast Telegraph understands that the Branch's ambitious plan will be reviewed by Belfast City councillors in what is called an "office meeting" at which the councillors will hear submissions from the applicant, objectors and the Planning Service.
The Ulster Branch initially lodged their application with the Planning Service in December 2005, but some residents near the ground raised a number of issues about the proposed re-development and in May 2006 formed the Ulster Rugby Residents' Association.
The Ulster Branch in response set up a working party to work with the residents and promote better relationships with their neighbours - whether planning was approved or not. The plan, which does not increase the capacity of the ground but aims to vastly improve facilities for players, supporters and corporate hospitality, was eventually approved by the Planning Service at the start of this month.
But when it went to a Council Planning Meeting, it was deferred to tomorrow's meeting in order to give all concerned parties the opportunity to put forward their arguments for a final time.
If the Council rubber-stamp the plan, the facelift for the old ground would take 16 months to complete, with the target for completion September 2009.
The tendering process would start next March and building process - both on and off-site - would begin in October/November next year.
That would result in Ravenhill's capacity in the 2008-09 season being reduced to between 9,500 to 10,000 from this season's capacity of around 13,300 when a new temporary stand is erected.
The first phase of the plan would involve the construction of a new stand behind the old terrace at the south-east Belfast venue.
As well as providing a roof for the existing terrace, it will also provide 600 seats and provide a lounge bar/restaurant facility.
Another stand is also planned at the car park end of the ground, which will also house the teams' changing room facilities and another bar.
At a later stage the old stand would be replaced, with the possibility of eventually further developing the Aquinas end.
The redevelopment would be funded through the Government's Safe Sports Ground Scheme (25 per cent) with the Ulster Branch left to raise the reminder via pre-selling naming rights, debenture sites and corporate partnerships.
If planning is approved, the redevelopment would take place irrespective of the construction of a national sports stadium as Ulster's Magners League matches, friendlies, schools and clubs programme and administration base would in any event remain at Ravenhill.