Ulster's Ravenhill rugby stadium to get multi-million pound upgrade
Plans for a major redevelopment of Ravenhill rugby stadium have been given the green light, Assembly ministers confirmed today.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood said he has backed planning permission for improvements at the south Belfast ground, including three new stands.
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said the announcement was central to plans to redevelop stadia linked to rugby, Gaelic games and football.
The Executive has earmarked up to £14.7 million of government funding for the schemes.
The ground was opened in 1923 and saw little change until 2009 when a new stand was built as part of a revamp.
Ulster Rugby chief executive Shane Logan welcomed the news that the major redevelopment could now get under way.
"A modern, fit-for-purpose and spectator-friendly stadium will enhance Ulster Rugby's standing and will assist the development of the sport from the grassroots through to international levels," he said.
"On behalf of Ulster Rugby, I would like to express our thanks to Minister Attwood and his officials at the Planning Service. I would also like to reiterate our thanks to the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure and Sport Northern Ireland for their assistance with the project to date.
"The development at Ravenhill will not only benefit our sport but will have wider benefits for health, tourism and the Northern Ireland economy and we are privileged to be part of a legacy that will remain in Northern Ireland for years to come."
The construction work at Ravenhill will take a phased approach and the ground will continue to host matches with a slightly reduced capacity.
"Over the coming months we will be working closely with our project board, consisting of representatives from Sport Northern Ireland and the Ulster Branch, which will oversee the project.
"We will be appointing an independent consulting team who will prepare the detailed design and the pre-construction process with an aim to start building towards the end of 2012," said Mr Logan.
The new Ravenhill stands will complement the existing stand, opened in October 2009, and will raise the stadium's capacity to 18,000 spectators.
The news is a further boost for Ravenhill, the home of Ulster Rugby, days after the team qualified for its second successive Heineken European Cup quarter-final.
Mr Attwood said: "This is a tremendous boost for rugby and for sport here. Planning approval will now lead to the creation of a stadium that is fit for the 21st century.
"In arriving at my decision, I have given careful consideration to the need for a new stadium and views of the local community amongst others.
"I am satisfied that the new Ravenhill can be achieved without causing undue harm to the surrounding area or its citizens.
"Ulster Rugby will have a major role in this regard. The role of planning is to create a better place, to live, work and invest in Northern Ireland and this ambitious exciting project will create employment opportunities for local people, particularly during the construction process.
"It is a further example of how sport in NI, which is very much on the up, can further develop."
Welcoming the announcement, Ms Ni Chuilin said: "We have now reached a milestone in the upgrade of Ravenhill. This progress will enable rugby to move to the next stage of their ambition to have a stadium that will fully meet their needs well into the future.
"Having secured up to £110 million earlier in the year for the development of regional stadiums for rugby, Gaelic games and football, I am delighted that a point has been reached which will enable us to begin to see progress on the ground."
She added: "The stadium development programme is a key priority for me and my department and I look forward to seeing progress being made in the development of Casement Park for Gaelic games and Windsor Park in respect of football."