Older people's commissioner urges GAA to address Casement Park fears
THE older people's commissioner has written to the GAA's director general urging him to address elderly residents' concerns over plans to redevelop Casement Park.
Eddie Lynch told Páraic Duffy the relationship between the GAA and residents "has been one of tension" since the stadium project began, and he is "disappointed" that "trust between the parties has not improved".
He called on Mr Duffy to ensure concerns are "addressed directly with the residents, in an open and respectful way".
Ulster GAA said it has recognised the needs of older people throughout its consultation and planning process.
The letter was sent after residents of a cul-de-sac beside the west Belfast sports ground raised concerns with the commissioner about proposals to use it as an access route to the new stadium.
They fear using Owenvarragh Gardens will cause problems for households including increased traffic.
Mr Lynch wrote: "It is fair to say that the development of Casement Park and the relationship between the Gaelic Athletic Association and the local residents has been one of tension since the redevelopment plans were first revealed.
"I am disappointed that older people in the area feel that their voices are not being listened to and that trust between the parties has not improved.
"I am seeking your firm commitment that the concerns expressed in the letters of objection are addressed directly with the residents, in an open and respectful way."
In the letter sent in December, he also offered to meet with the GAA to discuss the matter.
The £77m Casement redevelopment project, which includes £62m of public funds, has been beset with years of problems and delays.
In 2014 planning approval for the original 38,000-capacity design was quashed in a legal challenge.
A revised planning application was submitted February last year with a reduced spectator capacity of around 34,000.
Ulster GAA hopes to finish construction in 2019, but residents behind the previous court action remain opposed, saying it is "not a significant reduction" in capacity.
Civil servants in the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) will decide on the application if no new executive is formed.
Mr Lynch also wrote to DfI chief planner Fiona McCandless asking her to ensure residents' objections are given "adequate weight in consideration of the planning application".
Pat McGrath (67) of the Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents Association welcomed the letters.
He expressed concerns that if the street is used for Casement, residents would find it difficult to access their properties during events at the sports ground.
"This has been hanging over us for this past number of years and people have become very fearful," he said.
Ulster GAA said it responded to Mr Lynch and thanked him for his letter.
A spokesman said: "We reaffirmed our cognisance for the needs of older people throughout the Casement Park planning process and outlined the measures we introduced to support their contributions during the unprecedented 32-week community consultation which saw over 5,000 people participate.
"The views of the local community were reflected in the emerging design and management plans. Following the submission of the planning application, interested party representations will be considered in detail by the planning authority."
DfI confirmed it had received the letter and said it will respond "in due course".
"All representations received in relation to Casement Park planning application will be taken into account when determining the application," a spokeswoman said.