Nichola Mallon: 'We have all waited far too long on a decision' on Casement Park
THE long-delayed redevelopment of Casement Park is a "priority" for the north's new infrastructure minister, who said she believes "we have all waited far too long on a decision".
Just days into the new role, Nichola Mallon said she wants to "move to a decision point as quickly as possible".
It comes just a day after the chairman of Ulster GAA said planning authorities had indicated they were "hopeful" the process could soon come to an end, possibly by April.
Tom Daly, chairman of Ulster GAA, also said it was "up to us in the GAA" to do what was required for a "successful planning outcome".
But Ms Mallon, who had responsibility for planning under her new Stormont role, yesterday told The Irish News she "can't pre-empt outcomes because I have to consider everything that comes before me".
"Casement is a priority and I think we have all waited far too long on a decision, everybody involved," she said.
"But the state of play at the moment is that departmental officials are awaiting some further information back from the GAA, that will be advertised and consulted upon and I am keen to be able to move to a position of decision as soon as possible following all of the appropriate processes and procedures."
On Wednesday, Communities minister Deirdre Hargey and Finance minister Conor Murphy visited the site of the proposed new stadium in west Belfast where they met Ulster GAA officials and project leaders to discuss the impasse in the project.
Planning approval was granted in 2013 for a 38,000-capacity stadium, but in 2014 that approval was quashed in a High Court legal challenge brought by some residents, who have called for a "suitably-sized redevelopment".
The project was reviewed the following year after a safety expert claimed the planned stadium could not be evacuated safely in certain emergencies.
New plans were submitted by Ulster GAA in February 2017 with a reduced capacity of around 34,000. But they are still being assessed by planning officials in the Department for Infrastructure (DfI).
The initial cost of the project was estimated at £77m, however, that estimate has now risen to £110m.
Under her brief as infrastructure minister, Ms Mallon will be tasked with dealing with the Casement Park planning application.
But speaking yesterday, the SDLP North Belfast MLA declined to discuss any issues relating to the outcome of the redevelopment.
"It is difficult for me to be able to comment on any of the specific details of any of the planning applications that are before me," she said.
"I have to respect the processes, but I'm very clear that we have had a complete absence of serious decision-making in the past three years.
"I want to be decisive but I want to be making robust decisions based on all of the evidence and following all of due process."
However, Ms Mallon said she is keen for a decision to be made.
"From my perspective, what I want to do is move to a decision point as quickly as possible so once we get information back," she said.
"Once we follow all of the procedures, once I have considered everything in the round as there has been a lot of representations in this particular application then I am wanting to move to decision as quickly as I possibly can."
In relation to the size of the stadium, she said she recognised "there are people in support of it and people who are opposed to it".
"I think given the fact that I'm going to be a decision maker on this application, it's very important that I am not pre-emptive or there are things that I say that are not appropriate so all I an say on it," she said.
But in a statement, the Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents Association (MORA) reiterated that they had "consistently stated our objections to the large scale development of Casement Park".
"There are obvious questions over the suitability of Casement and this is why the planning application is taking so long," a spokeswoman said.
"There are many outstanding issues still to be resolved particularly concerning traffic management, parking, safety of spectators and access.
"DfI have requested additional FEI (Further Environmental Information ) on three occasions and are now waiting on a response to a request dated November 2019.
"The residents also have concerns over loss of light in homes, air quality, access to our homes, noise and disruption during concerts and many other issues.
"If approved, we would be living in the shadow of this development for the rest of our lives, and it would have a severe impact on our quality of life and we are determined to do all we can to ensure our voices are heard."