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Casement Park: Sinn Féin minister 'calls in' planning application

The proposed design for a redeveloped Casement Park
Brendan Hughes

THE outgoing infrastructure minister has instructed officials to 'call in' the planning application for the redevelopment of Casement Park.

It means a final decision on the GAA's proposals will be made at ministerial level rather than by Belfast City Council.

A new planning application for the stadium in west Belfast is understood to be "imminent", the Department for Infrastructure said.

Sinn Féin minister Chris Hazzard, who remains in post until the March 2 election, described it as a "hugely important project, not only for the west Belfast community, but for the whole region".

"I am acutely aware that whilst there are potentially many economic and tourism opportunities with this stadium development, as well as the boost for sport and the benefits associated with sport, there are also significant concerns in the surrounding community about the localised impact of the development," he said.

"I can give an assurance that a final decision on this planning application will not be made until all socio-economic and environmental impacts, both positive and negative, associated with the proposed stadium have been fully assessed, including the implications for the living conditions of residents in the surrounding streets.

"I welcome the fact that the GAA has been involved in extensive pre-application community consultation about the project and look forward to hearing the views and opinions of all stakeholders during the planning process."

For years efforts to redevelop Casement Park have been beset with problems and delays.

Planning approval for a previous design was overturned in 2014 after the High Court ruled it was unlawful.

Fresh design proposals were unveiled in October with a reduced height and capacity of 34,500 – 3,500 lower than the original plans.

But residents behind the previous legal challenge remain opposed, saying it is "not a significant reduction".

The planned £77m cost of the project includes £62m of funding from the Stormont executive, with the GAA aiming to finish construction by 2019.

Earlier this month The Irish News revealed the PSNI had warned of an "unacceptable risk" in emergency evacuation proposals.

In an email an officer said the risk of injury would be "greatly increased" by proposals to use the Stockman's Lane area to clear crowds.

The correspondence was sent in November – weeks after the GAA unveiled its new proposed stadium design.

Ulster GAA said "significant progress" has been made and it is "confident of resolving all aspects pertaining to safety".

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