CASEMENT PARK

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A derelict Casement Park with the old stand that is due to be demolished Pic: Michael Fisher

WILL A NEW CASEMENT PARK HOST ULSTER FINAL IN 2020?

Ulster GAA re-launch plans for new all-seater Belfast stadium

Michael Fisher  NORTHERN STANDARD  Thursday 9th June 2016 p.14

As Monaghan took the first step in Clones on Sunday towards retaining the Ulster football championship, the GAA in Ulster is proceeding with plans to start re-building Casement Park stadium next year. The first matches at the new £77 million ground could be played in 2019 and Casement could be ready to host its first Ulster senior football final in July 2020.

President of the Ulster Council Michael Hasson, an Antrim man, has welcomed the progress made on re-launching the plan. He said since opening in 1953 Casement Park had played a significant role in the development, promotion and profile of Gaelic Games in Belfast, Antrim and across Ulster. The GAA as a proud community organisation embedded in communities and open to everyone thrived on community spirit. The Casement Park project, he said, represented an opportunity to invest in a community that the Association was proud to be a part of.

Mr Hasson told the Northern Standard he hoped the new Casement Park would be able to host the Ulster final. But he stressed that this did not mean the end of Clones as a major venue. On the contrary, the GAA was keen to develop Clones to be on a par with the new Kingspan Breffni Park and with the re-developed stadium in Belfast, the biggest urban centre in Ulster. He himself was a member of the committee planning the redevelopment of Clones.

Last year on two separate occasions the GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail stated that the GAA would never abandon Clones as a venue for major games. He told members of Monaghan County Council that Clones had nothing to fear from a major redevelopment at Casement Park. But he stopped short of guaranteeing that St Tiernach’s Park would remain as the exclusive home of the Ulster football final. He said Clones was the same as Breffni and there would always be a significant need for it.

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Hoarding around the perimeter of Casement Park, Andersonstown Pic: Michael Fisher

The original plans for the new stadium on the Andersonstown Road in West Belfast to host up 38,000 people were drawn up in 2012 and lodged with the planning service in July 2012. But they ran into difficulty soon afterwards and a legal action was taken by a group of local residents opposed to the project because of its size. A civil servant also raised concerns about crowd safety issues.

In the meantime Ulster Rugby’s Ravenhill ground and soccer’s Windsor Park have both had millions of pounds pumped into their redevelopment by the Stormont Executive. When the plans for Casement were first published it was envisaged that the stadium would open by 2016 but so far no work has taken place and the main gates remain locked.

Former Department of Culture Arts and Leisure Minister Carál Ní Chuilín stated that money for the Casement Park redevelopment had been “ring-fenced” by the Executive. But there are fears that with a new team at Stormont and a DUP Minister, the development process could drag on, leaving the GAA in Ulster without a new state-of-the-art stadium while soccer and rugby will benefit from the latest facilities.

Casement Project Manager Stephen McGeehan said the GAA was now willing to consider a capacity below 38,000, the number of seats in the original redesign plan. As the Association launched a fresh round of community consultation about the proposal, he said the GAA had no intention, and never had, of knocking people’s houses down, or of purchasing or demolishing anyone’s homes to make room for the stadium.

Since 2014 when planning permission for the redevelopment was overturned the GAA has been working on a new planning application. The GAA said it wanted to hear feedback from people in west Belfast and further afield about the proposed stadium design. It organised a number of consultation initiatives.

The Northern Standard was shown the details at one of three public events held in west Belfast last month. The GAA intends to submit a planning application before the end of this year. Under the new timetable, work would start on the new stadium by the end of next year and the ground would be completed by the end of 2019. The hope would be to play the first Ulster provincial final at the new Casement Park in summer 2020.

The GAA said the redesigned stadium would take into account the fears over the emergency exiting arrangements in the original design. But they have not yet put a figure on the proposed capacity. Local residents had wanted a maximum of 25,000 spectators. Stage 2 of the consultation will take place in late Summer/Autumn when detailed plans will be available for review along with the findings of the Environmental Impact Assessment.

Chairman of the Casement Park Project Board Tom Daly commented: “We are looking forward to hearing the views of anyone with an interest in the project. This will be a facility everyone in west Belfast, County Antrim, Ulster and throughout Ireland will be immensely proud of and a stadium that the next generation of young people can aspire to play in. The start of the community consultation is an important step as we look forward to a new and modern stadium at Casement Park.”

The consultation will go above and beyond the twelve weeks process required, extending over a twenty-week period. The GAA said they would welcome views about all elements of the new provincial stadium from the local community, interest groups, the wider GAA and other relevant groups across business, arts, social and sports.

Project Director Rory Miskelly said: “Casement Park promises to be another landmark facility in the heart of Belfast and one which we are all looking forward to. The project remains a Programme for Government commitment and a key part of the Regional stadium programme. There is a clear roadmap for the project in place and the consultation forms a key part of this.”

At this stage the proposed development comprises the demolition and subsequent redevelopment of Casement Park to create a new provincial GAA stadium. It is anticipated that proposals will include:

  • Demolition of all existing structures and their re-use on site where appropriate;
  • Construction of a new all-seater stadium with capacity to accommodate Ulster GAA finals and semi-finals, All Ireland Qualifiers, Antrim County GAA (football and hurling) fixtures and other sporting events. The pitch will be constructed and laid out to established GAA standards;
  • Stands on all sides accommodating spectator seating in a range of categories (general admission, premium, corporate, VIP, ambulant disabled and disabled – designed to the highest standards of inclusive design including space for families to sit with wheelchair users); associated player, media, conferencing, bar and banqueting facilities, offices (Event Management Suite), medical and safety facilities, handball courts, community space, education and heritage centre, social club, kitchens and circulation space;
  • The provision of floodlighting and stadium lighting to facilitate high-definition media;
  • On-site car, coach parking and provision of a space for outside broadcast units;
  • Vehicular access to the site from Andersonstown Road; with emergency access arrangements towards Kennedy Way and Stockman’s Lane and pedestrian routes to Owenvarragh Park, Mooreland Drive and Andersonstown Road;
  • The stadium will be designed and constructed to a standard that will enable the hosting of a small number of special events including music concerts, subject to appropriate licensing and availability with regard to the primary use of the stadium for GAA fixtures and other sporting events;
  • The use of the Stadium for large scale (18,000 attendance) music events will be restricted by the seasonal nature of both the sporting calendar and the weather conditions which in effect will limit this use to not more than five days a year.

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will be prepared to address all environmental issues and submitted as part of the planning application. A number of preliminary/baseline environmental surveys are ongoing; these include but are not limited to:

  • Flora surveys
  • Mammal Surveys
  • Noise surveys
  • Ground Investigation surveys
  • Traffic surveys
  • Landscape & Visual surveys
  • Japanese Knotweed surveys and plan

The final design of the stadium will be subject to a detailed EIA that will address all necessary issues including:

  • Ecology
  • Air Quality & Climate
  • Noise & Vibration
  • Landscape & Visual
  • Water & Drainage
  • Cultural Heritage & Archaeology
  • Contaminated Land & Japanese Knotweed
  • Socio-economic
  • Overshadowing and Sunlight / Daylight effects
  • Lighting
  • Soils & Geology
  • Telecommunications
  • Highways & Transportation

Support for the project has come from a number of local GAA clubs. Michael Davitt’s GAA Club on the Falls Road in West Belfast said it was vital everyone showed support for the Casement Project. Hopefully, we will all be able to demonstrate a favourable impression and show there is a really strong support within Antrim County for the new Casement Park stadium.,‘Let’s build Casement!’ was their message to supporters.

Because of the closure of Casement, some important Antrim games are now being played at Corrigan Park in west Belfast, home of St John’s GAC. The All-Ireland Football qualifier round 1B game between Antrim and Limerick will be held there on Saturday 25th June. Time to be confirmed.

 

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