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Maze plan 'doomed' as Windsor Park gets an upgrade

The prospects of a multi-sports stadium being built at the Maze appeared doomed today after a new deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP ruled it out for another four years, The Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

However, the two parties have agreed that a Conflict Resolution Centre will be built on the former prison site near Lisburn.

According to senior Stormont sources, the deal surrounding the Maze blueprint will rule out a stadium for at least another four years, casting serious doubt over whether it will ever be built. Instead, early in the New Year, Sports Minister Gregory Campbell will confirm that a major refurbishment of Windsor Park will go ahead.

The business plan for the stadium will include the building of a new 4,000 seat capacity stand.

There will be a commitment from the minister to re-visit the issue of a national stadium once the overall world and local economic situation improves.

But there will be significant additions to the overall infrastructure of the Maze site to help with the projection of a united political front between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

However, DUP Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson today denied that a final agreement about the development at the former Maze Prison had been reached.

“The current situation is that discussions are ongoing between departments about the development of the Maze site and while some progress has been made, no decisions have been made yet in terms of either the Conflict Transformation Centre or the Stadium,” he said.

But the Telegraph has learned that final touches to the redrawn Maze master plan were discussed during the visit to the United States earlier this month by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

The changes were central to talks held with potential investors.

According to the government source, part of the package will include a reappraisal of the needs of the three main sports. It will include individual deals being struck or a link up between two of the sports. The most likely option is that a smaller stadium to cope with the requirements of soccer and rugby will be developed.

As the strongest supporter of the Maze stadium the GAA continues to refuse to speculate publicly on its alternative option choice.

The funding of the controversial Conflict Resolution Centre will come from various sources including the European Community. The prospect of additional funding from the United States is also on the cards.

The agreement between the two main political blocs in relation to the Conflict Resolution Centre was a necessary marriage of convenience in order to break the long running Executive logjam and the funding from outside sources will help protect the DUP’s against allegations being directly involved with a “shrine to terrorism.”

Despite comments from Junior Minister Gerry Kelly that there would be no political deal unless the Maze Stadium went ahead at the original site, the Telegraph understands that from a Sinn Fein perspective the “building of a sports stadium was always secondary to the Conflict Resolution Centre being a pivotal part of the redevelopment programme”.

Mr Campbell will address the Department of Culture, Art and Leisure committee tomorrow morning. His agenda will be the issue of Sports Stadia Safety legislation and its implementation across the province. However, the legislation will be tied-in with a decision to go ahead with the scheme at Windsor Park. The pressing need for spectator safety at the home of international football will be used as justification for the project going ahead.

Belfast Telegraph