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Ravenhill revamp given go-ahead

Residents unhappy at council decision

By Victoria O'Hara

A multi-million pound facelift at Ravenhill rugby ground has been given the green light by Belfast City Council after years of delay.

The £6m redevelopment at Ulster's home of rugby includes three new grandstands with hospitality areas and new entrances at Onslow Parade and Mount Merrion in south Belfast.

But concerns raised by residents about parking, anti-social behaviour and noise in the area had led to a delay in the decision by Belfast City Council.

Despite backing the proposal, some councillors - including Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers - voiced criticism of the approach the IRFU Ulster branch had in dealing with residents.

And SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy called for the proposal to be brought back in a bid to be more supportive of the residents.

PUP councillor John Kyle said he was not opposed to the improvement of the site but criticised the IRFU for adopting a "cavalier attitude" in dealing with residents.

An amendment by Sir Reg Empey was passed, calling on the Planning Service to introduce conditions on how the upgraded facilities are operated in a bid to help residents.

Resident Mark Hughes said they were left feeling "hugely disappointed" by the decision.

"Although the council will forward on conditions, the planners don't have to adhere to them. But we don't believe this is over."

Michael Reid, chief executive of Ulster Branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), said: "We are delighted that after the long period of time we have received council approval. And if we are to continue to develop the only full-time professional sport in Northern Ireland, an upgrade to the quality of facilities is absolutely essential."

In March, 2005, plans to redevelop the ground were rubber-stamped by the executive committee of the Ulster Branch of the IRFU. On October 4, 2005, the IRFU submitted them to the Planning Service for approval.

Mr Hughes said the main objection by the Ulster Rugby Residents' Association was anti-social behaviour.

"The anti-social behaviour exhibited by rugby fans is not tolerated in other grounds, such as Windsor Park," he said.

However, in a meeting with Belfast City Council, a representative for the Irish Rugby Football Union Ulster Branch told the council they were keen to minimise the impact upon the local community.

A number of arrangements, following consultation with residents, had been put in place. This included provision of a park and ride facility, and additional parking during international matches in the grounds of a local school to help ease congestion.

They added that they had met regularly with residents during the last two years to discuss concerns.

Belfast Telegraph


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