Minister questioned over judgment's implications for Casement Park decision
A Stormont minister has been questioned over whether a recent court ruling makes her planning decision on Casement Park vulnerable to a fresh legal challenge.
DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley wrote to Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon this week raising concerns about the potential implications of the judgment in the north-south interconnector case for other major planning approvals granted by the minister.
The intervention from Mr Buckley, a member of Ms Mallon’s Assembly scrutiny committee, came ahead of confirmation that a residents’ group opposed to the Casement Park redevelopment in west Belfast has launched judicial review proceedings against the decision to grant planning.
Last week a judge in Belfast upheld Ms Mallon’s decision to grant approval for the cross-border electricity line project despite identifying a legal flaw in the process.
The issue centred on legislation passed last year to give ministers more authority to make decisions without recourse to other Executive ministers.
The Executive Committee (Functions) Act clarified the circumstances within which ministers could make decisions without needing the approval of the wider administration.
However, crucially, since the Act was passed, the corresponding Ministerial Code governing the conduct of Stormont ministers has not been updated to reflect the legislative changes.
Under the existing code, Ms Mallon was still required to seek Executive approval for significant or controversial planning decisions.
Justice Scoffield absolved Ms Mallon of culpability over the matter, and declined to quash her decision, but the judge said she had still been legally in breach of her responsibilities under the code.
The minister’s decision to grant approval for the 34,000-plus capacity stadium at Casement Park was made at a time when the same mismatch existed between The Executive Committee (Functions) Act and the Ministerial Code.
In a letter to Ms Mallon, Mr Buckley wrote: “Could I ask the Minister what implications the judgment in the north/south interconnector case will have on other recent regionally significant planning decisions in general and the Casement Park application in particular?
“Could I further ask if the Minister asked for the ministerial code to be amended at any point since the Executive Committee (Functions) Act 2020 came into force?
“I’m sure the Minister will agree that these legitimate questions are of significant public interest, and I would appreciate a response at the earliest opportunity.”
Asked by the PA news agency about the implications of the north-south interconnector judgment, a spokesman for Ms Mallon’s department said: “The Department notes the decision and is giving careful consideration to the judgment.”
The GAA’s efforts to develop the old stadium site at Casement Park have been mired in contention, with initial planning approval for a 38,000-capacity venue quashed by the High Court in 2014 following a challenge by the Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents Association (Mora).
A Stormont inquiry followed after a safety expert raised concerns about emergency evacuation plans in the initial design. The GAA insisted it acted appropriately throughout the first design process.
A revised plan for a scaled-back stadium was then submitted by the GAA. The build is anticipated to cost more than £110 million.
Mora has now launched fresh judicial review proceedings against Ms Mallon’s approval of the revised plan.
Other residents in west Belfast are supportive of the plan to revive and regenerate the currently overgrown and crumbling stadium site.
A Department of Infrastructure spokesman added: “The Department has received leave papers on behalf of Mooreland and Owenvarragh Resident Association in respect of the decision to grant planning permission for Casement Park. Judicial review proceedings are ongoing.”