GAA Football

Down GAA chiefs step up plans for Ballykinlar centre of excellence

The entrance to Abercorn Barracks at Ballykinlar army base, where the Down County Board is hoping to develop a new centre of excellence to tie in with its '20-20' vision
Neil Loughran

DOWN GAA chiefs are hoping to be in a new centre of excellence in Ballykinlar by 2020 as they step up their bid to secure planning permission for the development.

The Mourne county board has invited expressions of interest from planning consultants with a view to submitting a full planning application for the former British Army base by December of this year.

And, if that is given the green light, county chairman Sean Rooney hopes the move to the new site could tie in with the “2020 vision” developed between the county board and its fundraising arm, Club Down.

“This is just another step in the process,” said Rooney.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to pre-empt the planners, but if we were able to get permission secured in 2018 then that gives us two years.

“If you’re going to develop grass pitches, you have to have work started and near lying a year before you could use them.

“The whole focus now is to get planning permission and that’ll take us a step further.”

According to the notice for the appointment of a planning consultant, Down GAA is seeking to develop a centre of excellence at Ballykinlar “to include playing pitches, changing rooms, administration headquarters and multi-purpose indoor facilities”.

It also states that the estimated total project cost for the new facility is “in the region of £6m excluding VAT,” although Rooney admits that is a “ball-park figure” at this stage.

The Mourne County has been forced to look on enviously while the likes of Tyrone have led the way in Ulster, the development of Garvaghey no doubt playing a part in the success its footballers have enjoyed at underage and senior level.

That is a model Down needs to follow if the county’s on-field fortunes are to be improved, admits Rooney.

He added: “We don’t have any facilities of our own, we’re always asking for clubs’ help and everybody’s help to get grounds sorted.

“We need to have our own place where players know where they’re going to be, to have state-of-the-art facilities for training and to prepare the teams.

“It’s vital - really, really important. We’ve never had anything before, attempts were made before that fell apart and left us in a bad place as a county.

“With this facility, it’s not an initial cash outlay. It’s a long-term lease rather than having to invest a whole heap of capital for land.”

Last August it was confirmed that Down GAA has entered “advanced negotiations” with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) regarding the acquisition of land at the Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinlar.

The resident battalion moved out of Ballykinler in 2014 with the 199 empty homes on-site set to be knocked down.

There had been calls for those houses to be used for social housing but in February the MOD reiterated their plans to knock them down.

It is understood that around 55 security guards work at Ballykinlar, which has been used in recent years by the emergency services for training.

In 2008 the Down County Board made an application on behalf of Bryansford GAC to build new pitches near the Burrenbridge Road between Newcastle and Castlewellan.

This site was set to be developed into new training facilities for Down’s county teams. However, the sale of St Patrick’s Park, Bryansford’s current ground, fell through and the development didn’t go ahead.

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