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Plans for Maze sports stadium officially axed

Plans for a new £300m international sports stadium for Northern Ireland are expected to be formally axed today.

The Executive will consider a paper today from Sports Minister Gregory Campbell — ending lingering hopes that the former Maze Prison site, near Lisburn could be turned into a showpiece arena in time for the 2012 Olympics.

It comes just five weeks after the Belfast Telegraph exclusively revealed how a deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP had ruled out the prospect of a multi sports |stadium at the Maze for at least another four years.

The three main sporting organisations in Northern Ireland — the Irish Football Association (IFA), the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and rugby’s Ulster branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) — backed the controversial scheme.

But with many unionists and soccer fans bitterly opposed to the development, Mr Campbell decided to formally abandon the project, claiming it would not |represent value for money and would cause community divisions.

The minister plans to explore other options involving major |investment in upgrading existing facilities, including Windsor Park, Belfast, where Northern Ireland play all their home soccer games.

Officials have already warned that matches might have to be switched to the UK unless significant improvements are made at Windsor Park.

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But the decision to scrap the Maze stadium project is a massive blow, according to a former Olympic pole vaulter.

Mike Bull, now a sports coach from Bangor, Co Down, said: “I think it is a sad reflection on our sporting ethos. In our community we have had great sportsmen through the decades. Our teams are doing very well.”

Many towns in countries such as France or Spain have similar stadiums yet Northern Ireland, he said, would still have none.

He added: “It seems a shame that we don’t have one for the |entire province. A national centre would be a jumping platform to motivate other sportspeople.”

The proposed development has divided political and sporting opinion. Mr Campbell said there would be a loss to the economy of between £156m and £193m which would not compensate for the non-monetary benefits which may flow from a shared centre.

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