Belfast Telegraph

Judgment reserved in bid to stop Casement Park plan

A view of how Casement Park would look from the outside
A view of how Casement Park would look from the outside

By Alan Erwin

Judgement has been reserved in a High Court bid to stop a new 38,000-seat GAA stadium being built in the heart of west Belfast.

A residents group issued proceedings against Environment Minister Mark H Durkan's decision to approve the £77m Casement Park redevelopment.

In one of the longest judicial review applications to come before the courts in recent years, Mr Justice Horner heard 13 days of legal submissions. But neither side will be faced with a crippling legal bill if they lose.

Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents' Association (MORA) have already been granted a protective costs order (PCO) limiting their potential liability for opposition fees to £10,000.

Without the financial safeguard they could not have mounted their challenge.

Should the Department of the Environment lose the case, it will only have to pay £35,000 of the residents' legal costs.

But Mr Justice Horner must first study all the arguments before delivering his verdict.

He has already visited the site to help in his assessment of the project's potential impact on the surrounding area.

The proposed new stadium is to include fully modern facilities.

Funding for the development is being split, with £62m coming from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and £15m from the GAA.

MORA contended that it will be too big for the area, dwarf surrounding homes, block out light and compound traffic congestion.

Members of the association packed the public gallery of Queen's Bench Courtroom Number One to hear their lawyers described the scheme as an injustice which would be unacceptable anywhere else in Northern Ireland.

It would be impossible to construct a stadium on that scale which will visually integrate with the existing neighbourhood, it was claimed.

Central to their case is an allegation that the environmental assessment was defective because it relied on Casement Park's existing 32,600 capacity as a baseline for examining the environmental impact of an increase of just over 5,000 seats.

Mr Justice Horner was told the new stadium would be replacing a ground which hasn't come close to selling out a lower capacity in decades.

Police claims that emergency evacuation of a full house at redeveloped facilities could take up to 47 minutes were also explored.

But counsel for the Planning Service warned during the hearing that GAA fans will be stuck with a crumbling and decaying venue if the decision to approve a new arena is quashed.

The £62m of public money allocated to the redevelopment would then be returned to the Stormont Executive for spending elsewhere, the court heard.

The delay in starting full construction on the new Casement Park GAA stadium is said to be costing £60,000 a week.

The overall bill for the redevelopment in west Belfast has now risen by £2.7 million.

Counsel for the GAA also revealed that nearly £5m of preliminary work will be lost if the scheme is halted.

All sides must now wait for Mr Justice Horner to decide.

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