Protesters tell contractors they 'aren't welcome' in second attempt to build De La Salle pitch
Protesting residents against a proposed new sports facility in west Belfast have met with contractors to tell them they won't be welcomed if they begin work on a new sports pitch.
De La Salle College wants to build a £1.6 million facility that will include a 3G pitch, pavilion and car park on Glassmullin Green in Andersonstown in a development that would take up a significant part of the green space.
A protest group has occupied the land for over 40 days in a move to do 'whatever is necessary' to protect their green space from being 'fenced off'.
Contractors from Haffey Sports Grounds Ltd were due to start work on the site on August 19 but left following a stand-off with protesters.
Aithne Kerrigan from Friends of Glassmullin Open Green, who lives close to the green said: "We always made clear that they would not be welcome in Glassmullin Green because this is a land grab and we want to protect our green space for the generation to come.
"It's a communal space and it has value for people's emotional and mental health. There's biodiversity there and people walk their dogs and it's used for rest and recreation."
Ms Kerrigan said the group has been operating since 2013, when permission was first sought for planning permission via Belfast City Council as a result of the Schools Enhancement Programme.
"There may be planning permission but we believe it was slipped through the net and we've consistently argued that this is an epic waste of money and doesn't address the needs of the school," said Ms Kerrigan.
Police confirmed they attended the incident when contractors arrived at the green on Tuesday morning.
Inspector James Murphy said: "Police received a report of a number of protesters in the Glassmullin Gardens area of west Belfast just before 11am this morning.
"Police are currently in attendance in the area."
Ms Kerrigan said the school should explore alternative options instead of depriving the community of access to the green space. "Once it goes, it's gone forever."
"The school has access to pitches at St Genevieve's which they've used since 2008. When they redeveloped the school in 2008 they knew they would not have five pitches so why are they punishing the community now?
"The pitch will only be three quarter sized so won't even be the right size for competitive sport. The standard is not good enough for the boys.
"We've maintained a presence on the green and we will continue to do so."
A spokesperson for De La Salle College said: "De La Salle College regrets the fact that contractors were unable to make progress when they returned to the site today.
"This is a project which has followed all of the requisite planning processes and has involved many years of consultation, not only with the community and community leaders, but with multiple interested parties, all of whom stand to benefit from a development that we have always seen as being a shared space for the community.
"The school has always been and remains open to dialogue, something that was communicated to those objecting to the development again today. We hope that the dialogue which will be required to reach a resolution can be facilitated so that the benefits of this unprecedented £1.6m investment in the community can be realised and enjoyed by all."
A Department of Education spokesperson said to date there has been no indication from the residents that they would be willing to enter into discussions with the school in respect of the issues raised.
"The Department would encourage residents to engage further with the school in a positive manner so that these matters can be explored during the construction period," the spokesperson added.
The Department said it is committed to delivering the School Enhancement Project for De la Salle College and that nearly 1,000 pupils require convenient access to their own training pitch to enable the school to fully deliver the Physical Education curriculum.
“It is important that this project is progressed now to ensure it is completed before another new academic year begins in September 2020," the spokesperson added.
"We are aware that some residents have strongly held views about the perceived loss of green space, however, all of these issues can be considered while the project proceeds. Given the significant benefits the project will deliver, the school and the Department can see no reason why it should be delayed further."
Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey has called for a short-term moratorium on the project.
"I am disappointed that the community and La Salle school are in conflict about the proposed development by the school of a green field site at Glassmullin Gardens, which has resulted in a stand-off between residents and contractors.
"I have engaged with the local community and a residents’ group and with the school.
"I have urged them to engage in dialogue, facilitated by independents who have a track record in community projects, to find a way forward.
"Even at this late hour I believe it is possible to find a solution to meet the needs of the local community and the school.
"I have contacted the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education to ask for a short-term moratorium on the project to enable such a dialogue to take place.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital