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Casement Park: Ulster GAA reacts to Arc21 incinerator ruling

How The Irish News last week reported on the Arc21 incinerator ruling
Brendan Hughes

ULSTER GAA has said it will "continue to review the wider political and statutory environment" for its Casement Park plans after a major court ruling dealt a further blow to the stadium project.

Last week the High Court found a senior civil servant did not have legal power to approve a new £240 million waste incinerator in the absence of a minister.

The ruling has cast doubt on other major decisions taken by civil servants since the Stormont executive's collapse early last year – as well as projects still in the pipeline.

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) is to appeal the ruling, but said it will not make any further decisions on major planning applications while the appeal process is under way.

It said officials will "carefully consider the full implications of the judgment on other planning cases".

Among the most high-profile planning applications affected is the redevelopment of Casement Park GAA stadium in west Belfast, which has already faced years of delays.

In 2014 planning approval was quashed for an original 38,000-capacity design following objections from some residents.

A revised application was submitted in February last year and civil servants were due to make a decision in the absence of a minister.

The latest setback comes as it emerges the cost of the stalled stadium project has reached more than £9.6 million before construction work has even begun.

The figure includes almost £1.8 million on Ulster GAA salaries and more than £577,000 on legal fees, according to a Freedom of Information response.

A bid to increase public funding of £62m for the project is also expected to require a minister.

Ulster GAA said it was aware of DfI's statement on regionally significant planning applications following the High Court decision.

"We remain passionately committed to delivering our provincial stadium at Casement Park, which was an executive-approved programme for government commitment," a spokesman said in a statement.

"Our dedicated team will continue to work with our project partners via the live planning assessment process and we remain entirely focused on that important work at this time.

"Ulster GAA will continue to review the wider political and statutory environment."

Earlier this year, Ulster GAA secretary Brian McAvoy warned that it "remains a concern that there is currently no minister (local or direct rule) for the planners to make a recommendation to".

"The legal position regarding the ability of senior civil servants to take decisions on regionally significant planning applications is the matter of a judicial process on the Arc21 incinerator project," he said in his annual report.

"It will be interesting and potentially relevant for the outcome on the Casement Park application but it would be most unfortunate, and even ironic, that given all the delays that the project has endured that it could be delayed further by political inactivity when the project itself is politically driven under a PfG (programme for government) commitment."

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