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Organisers 'certain' Balmoral Show will go ahead

Published 05/01/2013

John Mulgrew

ORGANISERS of the Balmoral Show have said they are "certain" the event will go ahead this year despite a "tight timetable" after getting the green light yesterday for its upping of sticks to the former Maze prison site ahead of the event in May.

Environment minister Alex Attwood rubber-stamped planning submissions for the first big redevelopment project for the now redundant site outside Lisburn, which shut in 2000.

Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) chief executive Colin McDonald told The Irish News the organisation would be relocating its annual agricultural show along with other events - including major live music - from its existing headquarters at the King's Hall complex in south Belfast.

He said the massive move would be paid for out of the organisation's "war chest" of funds.

The new development at the 360-acre site outside Lisburn is set to include a main arena along with equine and livestock show-rings and an entrance canopy.

RUAS members voted in favour of moving their headquarters to the Maze in June last year.

But according to Mr McDonald the society's existing King's Hall development is to remain and be developed into housing over the coming years.

Despite having only five months to go he said he was "certain" the massive farming show would go ahead as planned in spite of a tight schedule.

"The King's Hall will not be sold and will be developed as a joint venture. The first part has started already," he said.

"Bringing the show by May 15 will be tight. It is a tight timetable but deliverable.

"The new site at the Maze will also eventually have our existing pavilion - that will be moved there in 2014."

Alex Attwood said the proposed relocation would be a "catalyst" for further redevelop at the Maze site.

"I have given very careful consideration to this proposal, interrogating all of the issues, including the potential for traffic disruption in the area," he said.

"This is another major planning application and one of regional significance. It has been determined within six months of its receipt by the officials in DOE planning.

"I have concluded that effective traffic management by the applicant around events should keep disruption to a minimum."

The department said it had not received any objections to the plans.

The Balmoral Show will now leave its former home behind after more than 100 years at the King's Hall site.

It could be joined in the coming years by a new £18 million conflict resolution centre - designed by Daniel Libeskind who oversaw the building of the ground zero memorial in New York.

But a planning application for the 'peace' centre is yet to be granted, having only been submitted towards the end of last year.

Other significant proposals for the site have already been shelved in the years since the government outlined its 'masterplan' for the Maze in 2006.

That included grand plans to build a £300m sports stadium on the site. But despite some £3.5m being paid in consultancy fees for the project, it was abandoned in January 2009.

Earlier this year there was a furore surrounding the man appointed to take charge of the site, after it emerged Terence Brannigan - taken on as Maze Development Board chairman - had been part of the initial recruitment panel.