Campaigners to seek a judicial review over £45m Craigavon college scheme
Opponents to the building of a £45m Southern Regional College campus in Craigavon have said they will seek an emergency judicial review after the local council approved the plan.
The development, which will be located next to the £30m Craigavon leisure centre, close to the Craigavon Civic and Conference Centre and Rushmere Shopping Centre, will replace the Lurgan and Portadown campuses, with a single facility covering 12 acres of City Park.
Kelly Laverty, from the Save Craigavon City Park and Lakes group, said the decision - taken after a seven-hour meeting of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council on Wednesday - had left local residents "furious".
She also claimed that, given its scale, the application should have been transferred to the Department for Infrastructure.
"We have fought this for two years, and while we were disappointed at the council decision, it's no more than we expected," Mrs Laverty said.
"It's not that we don't want a new college. It's that we don't want it at the expense of a park the community loves and enjoys.
"This is a very complex application, and it should have been dealt with at a higher level.
"Despite asking for a postponement, given this complexity, we were told that wasn't going to happen.
"People are furious at what they see as a corporate decision, not a decision on behalf of the community."
Ms Laverty claimed that a judicial review would "finally show up the flaws in the decision-making process, allow us to bring our own experts and give us access to documents we have not been able to see, including the council's masterplan for the area".
Among those speaking against the plan on Wednesday night was Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie, who said the council had chosen the wrong location.
"Craigavon needs development, and South Regional College will be good for that, good for jobs and regeneration, but this is the wrong place," Mr Beattie added. "This is a park for the people, an open space for recreation (that is) beneficial to wellbeing and mental health.
"A college on this scale will fundamentally change the nature of the area."
Mr Beattie also accused the council of acting disingenuously, having previously zoned the land for tourism, culture and recreation.
He said: "Over 6,000 people have said they don't want to see the college located there, but the elected representatives on the council are ignoring them. All those people have my support in seeking a judicial review."
Backers of the plan maintained other options had been considered, but the lakeside location was the most appropriate because of its central and neutral location, with good public transport links.
Southern Regional College has plans for five acres of replacement habitat to compensate for the construction of the low-rise building.
It said the approval was "fantastic news which would support hundreds of construction jobs and transform education".