Belfast Telegraph

£76m Casement stadium scheme is hit by fresh delay

By Adrian Rutherford

Plans for a flagship GAA stadium have suffered another major setback after a review ordered sweeping changes to the project.

It will be another year before a planning application is even submitted for the new Casement Park.

A number of senior officials on the troubled scheme will also be replaced, including an expert who raised concerns over safety.

Paul Scott - who warned of a Hillsborough-style crowd crush - will give way to someone with "mediation and facilitation" skills.

Yesterday's report found relationships between key people involved in the £76m project were broken.

The review called for an independent mediator to be brought in to address tensions and "reset working relationships".

"Put simply, the project cannot make progress unless these relationships can be reset," it said.

Situated in west Belfast, Casement Park is the city's principal GAA stadium. It is among the proposed venues for Ireland's 2023 Rugby World Cup bid.

The stadium is undergoing a major revamp as part of a Government commitment to upgrade outdated sports facilities.

The GAA wants to build a 38,000-capacity all-seater stadium on the current site on the Andersonstown Road. The Executive is providing £61m, while the GAA is contributing £15m.

The project has been dogged by delay and controversy. Last December a High Court judge quashed planning approval for the stadium and in May Sports Minister Caral Ní Chuilín ordered a review of the project after concerns from Mr Scott, who chaired the Safety Technical Group (STG). He claimed the stadium could not be evacuated safely, and there was the risk of a Hillsborough-style disaster.

Mr Scott took a grievance case against his boss at Sport NI over the way his complaints were handled. Ms Ni Chuilin ordered the project assessment review in response to the claims.

The review, made public yesterday, sets out 20 recommendations, including:

  • Appointing an independent person to chair the STG. The candidate should be skilled in mediation and facilitation, rather than technical knowledge, it said;
  • The need for a realistic and comprehensive plan that sets clear expectations for when a new planning application can be submitted;
  • And the appointment of a full-time "senior responsible owner" to lead the project for the next 12 to 18 months.

The report said: "On Casement Park we found that relationships were broken. Resentments have built up over time over perceived behaviours and there were difficult relationships between some of the STG members and personnel from DCAL, GAA and the design team working on the project."

Despite the planning application being a year or more off, Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin insists the project will be delivered.

Belfast Telegraph


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