Belfast Telegraph

Windsor Park damage: Did excavation pit cause sinking of West Stand?

Leisure centre work is focus of Windsor crisis

By Adrian Rutherford

Calls are growing for an investigation into whether a multi-million pound leisure centre project played a role in the damage to Windsor Park.

A giant hole close to the stricken West Stand is understood to be linked to the rebuild of Olympia Leisure Centre.

The vast pit is just feet away from the 5,000-capacity stand - also known as the Kop - which is now facing demolition, just 18 years after it was built.

A well-placed source said the hole was not linked to the Irish Football Association's redevelopment of Windsor Park.

Instead it forms part of another leg of the overall project, which will replace the existing Olympia facility. The £22m complex, situated near the rear of the Kop, is due to be completed next year.

It is not known if this excavation played any role in the subsidence crisis.

That will be determined by experts, and a structural engineer's report is due to be presented to the IFA in the coming days.

However, last night calls were growing for the source of the problem to be urgently confirmed.

Long-serving Belfast city councillor Jim Rodgers said he would be seeking answers.

"I'm aware that we have a leisure centre very close by, and it is my intention to speak to the officers who are involved in this within the council," he said.

"I wouldn't like to think that anything the council has undertaken has brought this about.

"However, we have a responsibility as a local authority, and I want to assure the public that I will ask for this to be investigated.

"When that is done it will be up to the council to make a statement to clear the air."

The crisis has been unfolding since Tuesday when the West Stand and the surrounding area were sealed off.

It followed reports of subsidence and cracks in the stand's structure.

The Irish FA is currently awaiting the results of the structural engineer's report, which is expected to outline the extent of the damage.

However, well-placed sources within the Irish FA admit there is a growing acceptance that the stand, built in 1997, will have to be torn down.

On Thursday the biggest game of the league season, Linfield's home clash against Crusaders, was called off.

The Blues' fixture against Glenavon next weekend will now be played at Ballymena Showgrounds.

Belfast City Council declined to comment directly on whether the rebuild of Olympia Leisure Centre may be linked to the problems at Windsor Park.

A spokesperson said: "We are aware of the structural failure of the West Stand.

"A full and detailed investigation is currently being carried out by the contractor and his engineering consultants."

A spokesperson for the contractors declined to comment.

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