LEGAL WRANGLE DELAYS £25 MILLION STORMONT CASH TO UPGRADE WINDSOR PARK

DoE Minister Alex Attwood and Sports Minister Cara Ni Chuilian with new look Windsor Park in February

DoE Minister Alex Attwood and Sports Minister Cara Ni Chuilian with new look Windsor Park in February

LEGAL action is delaying the release by the Stormont Executive of £25m funding to upgrade the Windsor Park stadium.

The case is being brought by Crusaders Football Club at the High Court in Belfast.

Counsel for the Irish Football Association (IFA) counsel claim delays in resolving the case may cast doubt over government cash to redevelop Windsor Park.

Crusaders FC are seeking to judicially review the plans amid claims they breach European Union competition laws.

A lack of transparency surrounding the scheme has also been alleged.

The Irish League club claims funding the Windsor Park project would be a form of state aid to Linfield, one of its main rivals and stadium owners.

According to Crusaders’ case the proposals would create unfair revenue streams as well as superior facilities at the south Belfast ground.

The Windsor Park redevelopment is part of a redevelopment plan that also includes the Ulster rugby ground at Ravenhill and the GAA’s Casement Park.

A total of £110m has been allocated for the three building projects through the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

In court, Crusaders’ barrister, Peter Girvan, said his clients are still seeking an outline business case document as part of their challenge.

A hearing listed to decide whether the case had enough merit to proceed was put back for four weeks for clarification on issues to do with European Commission involvement.

The matter was adjourned on Wednesday until May.

In February Environment Minister Alex Attwood announced that he was granting planning permission for a new Windsor Park stadium.

The SDLP MLA gave the green light for an 18,000 capacity stadium at the south Belfast ground.

It will mean new stands will be built at the East and South of the ground while refurbishment work will take place on the North and West stands.

It is the third of the stadium development programme in Northern Ireland that also includes Ravenhill and Casement Park.

Around £18 million is being spent on redeveloping the Ravenhill ground in east Belfast which is home to Ulster Rugby.

And around £76 million is being spent on upgrading the GAA’s Casement ground in west Belfast into a 40,000 seater stadium.

More than £25m of funding from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is to go towards updating the historic football Windsor ground in south Belfast.

The Irish Football Association (IFA) is also set to locate its new headquarters there, moving from its current base in Windsor Avenue.

Construction work is scheduled to begin at Windsor Park in August with the phased project expected to be completed by the summer of 2015.

Discussions are alsounder way about transforming the Boucher Road area of south Belfast into a sporting village.

A feasibility study has been carried out on behalf of Belfast City Council.

Talks have focused on developing MidgleyPark, the Olympia Leisure Centre and Boucher Road playing fields.

The idea is backed by the sports minister, environment minister and the Irish Football Association.

News of the discussions about a sporting village emerged on the day environment minister Alex Attwood granted planning permission for the redevelopment of WindsorPark football stadium in south Belfast.

Under the plan, the Irish Football Association will build an 18,000 seater stadium and two new spectator stands.

Mr Attwood said the granting of planning permission would lead to “the creation of a stadium that is fit for the 21st century”.

The new look 18,000 all seater Windsor Park stadium

The new look 18,000 all seater Windsor Park stadium

In total, the Stomont Executive has allocated up to £110m in public funding for the three building projects, through the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL).

More than £25m is to go towards the redevelopment of WindsorPark, the home venue for Northern Ireland’s international football team.

The green light was given for the project following the fastest ever turnaround for a major planning application in Northern Ireland.

Permission was granted 11 weeks after the application was received by the planning authorities.

Mr Attwood described it as a “tremendous boost for football and for sport”.

“This ambitious, exciting project is important in sporting terms to everyone in Northern Ireland and will also create employment opportunities for local people, particularly during the construction process.

“This is why I made sure that we were in a position to turn it around quickly.

“My officials worked with the project team and key consultees for months before the application was submitted, clearing any hurdles. This ensured a quality application and therefore a speedy process,” the minister added.

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín described the planning approval as a key milestone in Northern Ireland’s stadium redevelopment programme and said it was a good example of cross-departmental co-operation at Stormont.

She said: “The Irish FA are now able to move to the next stage of their ambition to create a modern stadium to cater for the needs of the whole football community.

“While the modernisation of WindsorPark represents a huge boost for football fans, this project and the others at Ravenhill and Casement are also about building community foundations and providing a catalyst for the regeneration of the areas around the stadiums, ” Ms Ní Chuilín added.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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