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Dept says sports facility to go ahead

DISPUTE: De La Salle’s plans for Glassmullin green in Andersonstown DISPUTE: De La Salle’s plans for Glassmullin green in Andersonstown
By Ciara Quinn

THE PERMANENT Secretary at the Department of Education has told protesting Glassmullin residents that he is “keen” that the plans to build De La Salle College’s new sports development “proceeds to the site as quickly as possible”.
Derek Baker held a meeting with Friends of Glassmullin Open Green (FOGOG) representatives on September 4 and said that his Department remains “committed” to the £1.6 million School Enhancement Programme (SEP) at the Glassmullin site.
The development and planning of the sport facilities at Glassmullin by De La Salle College and Belfast City Council has been ongoing since 2013. Planning permission was granted in 2015 and received approval from elected representatives on Belfast City Council having gone through all of the requisite planning procedures.
The plans have been significantly revised three times following consultation, resulting in a final plan which meets the school’s needs while making provision for extensive landscaped open space facilities for local residents.
The sports provision as planned will occupy under fifty per cent of the land available with the remainder proposed as a managed landscape development. In a letter addressed to FOGOG dated September 13, Mr Baker states that the project needs to proceed “within the approved plans”.
“While there is no scope to amend the plans in these areas, the Department’s view remains that there are still a number of other areas where engagement between the residents and the school would be of great value.
“As you are aware, a contractor is in place for this project and is ready to start on site.
“As I stated at the meeting, it is the Department’s preference that this project can proceed in a manner that will benefit both the school and the community and I would urge you to consider the offer being made in a positive manner.”
FOGOG have occupied Glassmullin green since August 19 when contractors, Haffey Sports Grounds, were due to begin work on the project. FOGOG have campaigned for the protection of the green space since 2013, and described attempts to develop on the site as a “land grab”.
De La Salle College have reiterated on several occasions that it has engaged in “considerable” and exhaustive “consultations” and modified plans three times to take into account the wishes of residents whilst still benefitting its pupils and “the whole community”.
In his letter Derek Baker stated that there were four specific areas “where it will not be possible to make amendments”. Those areas are:
• 3G pitch – following consultation in the earlier stages of this project, the size of the pitch has already been reduced. The current approved plan is for a 100m x 64m pitch, which is the minimum requirement to enable the school to have a useful facility for the delivery of the PE curriculum.
• Fencing – As you will appreciate, safeguarding of the De La Salle pupils is paramount, so the pitch needs a level of fencing. This will also have the benefit of protecting residents’ homes from stray balls.
• Floodlighting – One of the key aspects of this project is that the pitch is available for community use outside of school hours and floodlighting is required to allow the community to maximize its use of the facility. While the provision of floodlights is central to the project, there is scope to review the hours of operation of the lights.
• Pavilion – The pavilion is required for both school and community use and has already been reduced in size. It is simply not possible to further reduce the size of the pavilion and still have a facility, which meets the needs of the school and the community.
However, in his communication to FOGOG, Mr Baker said that there are “still a number of areas” where engagement between the residents and the school “would be of great value”. The main areas are:
• Hours of use of the facility;
• Sources of funding and the charging policy for community use of the facility;
• Landscaping of the Council area and;
• Nature of the 3G surface.
Senior De La Salle College representatives told the Andersonstown News that the school “has always been and is still willing” to engage with FOGOG.
“There has been extensive consultation on this project since it was first announced in January 2013. As of September 19 the Department received an acknowledgement from FOGOG that they are considering the letter sent from Derek Baker and will be in touch in due course.
“The delay on the project is costing thousands of pounds and this project will begin within the coming weeks.
“We have made repeated efforts to engage, we want FOGOG to talk to us. Essentially these contractors have to go back onsite. This is a real passion for us. To provide this type of sports provision for the children, for the community.
“It is important to stress that we want the community to be part of the management process of this project and we have extended several invitations for residents to join the Glassmullin Management Committee. The vision has always been co-ownership of this project and that remains as such.”

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