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Casement challenge gets going

By Conor McLoughlin

A CHALLENGE to the decision by the Department of the Environment to grant planning for permission for the new Casement Park got under way yesterday morning at the High Court.

A large number of residents from Mooreland Park and Owenvarragh Avenue joined representatives of Ulster and Antrim GAA on the public benches as the case was heard against the decision by Environment Minster Mark H Durkan to give the green light to the planned £76 million rebuilding of the Andersonstown venue.

On the opening day of proceedings David Scoffield QC outlined the grounds on which MORA (the Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents’ Association) would be challenging the process by which the Environment Minister came to his decision to approve the planning application brought by the developers and Ulster GAA.

The main argument was that the planning application did not accurately describe what the stadium would be used for once it was completed, outside of Gaelic Games, as is required. It is not contested by the GAA that they plan to host conferences and concerts, as well as indoor entertainment, in the new stadium, but this – Mr Scoffield argued – was not set out clearly in the planning application.

This ‘mixed’ use of the new stadium was not properly assessed when the environmental impact statement – a legal necessity in the planning application process – was delivered by consultancy firm RPS, a “fundamental error” on the part of the applicants, argued Mr Scoffield.

It was also alleged that the Department of the Environment had given “unprecedented” levels of support to the GAA in order to ensure the planning application was successful, including repeated guaran-tees that “planning was not an issue”. The GAA were also advised by the Department to develop a “live” frontage on the Andersonstown Road to improve the look of the new building, in order to gain a positive visual impact assessment from the Department’s own design department later in the planning process.

It was also alleged the ‘Match for Michaela’ in November 2012 was suggested by the Department in order to assess noise, air quality and traffic management in the Andersonstown area on the night of a well-attended GAA match.

Mr Scoffield also argued that the PSNI are strongly opposed to the new development, and that the Match For Michaela “stretched all police resources to the limit” and that the traffic lights at the Stockman’s Lane junction with the M1 had to be overridden by the police in order to prevent a major traffic jam on the motorway. That was for a match with an attendance of 18,661 – less than half the proposed capacity of the new Casement Park.

The judicial review is being heard by Mr Justice Thomas Horner who will continue to hear evidence for four days, with a decision due later in the month.

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