The long-running project to deliver a revamped Casement Park that will become Belfast’s biggest stadium has received a significant boost after Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, recommended planning approval.

Casement Park has been closed since 2013 and development plans had awaited planning permission seven years after the last match was staged there, and after a fresh application was made in February 2017.

The plan proposed by the Ulster Council of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is for a new 34,578-capacity facility built on the site of the existing stadium in Northern Ireland’s capital. The project was first proposed in 2012, but has since stalled due to legal challenges from local residents and concerns over safety. Indeed, an original vision for a 38,000-seat venue was overturned by a court after it was challenged by residents.

However, Mallon has now said: “Since taking office I have stressed the need for progression of this long awaited application. I acknowledge that this approval was not an easy decision, there has been an extensive consultation process due to the complexities of the application and the level of public representation in relation to the proposal.

“I recognise the impacts on residential amenity from the proposed development but ultimately I had to weigh such impacts with the social and economic benefits that would result from the completion of this project and I truly believe that the Casement Park stadium will be successful.

“The new stadium is of high quality design and will become a renowned landmark building which will provide a further catalyst for regeneration of the Andersonstown Road and an economic boost to west Belfast in general. Belfast as a whole shall benefit from this redevelopment, connecting people from across the city, the north and further afield.

“This stadium will boost sports tourism and the economy in the north. Jobs during the construction phase and additional jobs for the daily management are to be welcomed. This decision represents a significant boost for our economy, our community and sports across Ulster and across our island.”

The project will now be referred back to Belfast City Council for ratification. Ulster GAA has welcomed the “landmark and historic decision” from Mallon. Following the submission of the latest planning application in February 2017, yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) decision is set to see the completion of the last remaining project within the NI Executive’s Regional Sports Stadia Programme.

More than 5,000 people engaged in the project’s 32-week community consultation with 95% stating that they were in favour of the new design, which was led by Populous. The new Casement Park will deliver a bowl structure with a 34,578 capacity and a range of mixed-use facilities that will bring cultural, health, civic and economic opportunities to Belfast and beyond.

Tom Daly, chairperson of the Casement Park Stadium Development Project Board, said: “This announcement represents a very significant milestone for Gaels across Ireland, Ulster and Antrim who have remained fully committed to the delivery of their provincial stadium at Casement Park. We want to recognise and thank them for their unstinting support throughout the application process.

“We firmly welcome the Minister’s support and recognition of this decision as a significant step and one which will provide a major economic boost to Belfast. The Casement Park project will support the economic recovery, representing a long-term investment in the future of west Belfast, bringing with it many direct and indirect jobs along with increased revenues for local businesses and the regeneration of the area.”

In February, the GAA said it hoped the long-awaited redevelopment of Casement Park would commence this year. In March 2019, the estimated cost of the redevelopment project for Casement Park rose to £110m (€120.8m/$141.9m), having originally been estimated to cost £77.5m.

Speaking on behalf of the GAA nationally, Uachtarán John Horan and Ard Stiúrthóir Tom Ryan said: “Today is a very significant day, not just for the GAA in Antrim and Ulster, but for the organisation nationally.

“A lot of time and energy has been invested in bringing the project to this juncture and all involved deserve commendation for their patience and commitment to the stadium re-build. We look forward to working with Antrim and Ulster in the weeks and months ahead to plan the next steps in providing a new and welcome focal point for our games and for the Association in the north east of the island.”

Image: Populous