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Casement Park planning decision to face judicial scrutiny

Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, will face a judicial inquiry for her decision to grant planning permission for the redevelopment of Belfast’s Casement Park stadium.

Planning permission had been granted for the redevelopment of Casement Park in July, with work on a new 34,578-seat Gaelic sports stadium having been due to begin in the first half of 2022.

The new stadium, which was expected to take two to three years to build, will include a bowl design and a range of mixed-use facilities. The design has been developed by architecture firm Populous.

The revamped Casement Park will become Belfast’s biggest stadium. Planning permission was granted after Mallon recommended the project for approval in October 2020. However, the Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents Association (MORA) has been seeking a judicial review of the planning permission, with some of those living in the immediate area of the stadium concerned at the scale of the estimated £110m (€132.3m/$145.3m) project.

Belfast’s High Court has now ruled that Mallon’s decision will be scrutinised, based on the fact that she did not seek wider consent for the project from the Northern Ireland Executive. Mr Justice Humphreys said he will hear legal arguments on Mallon’s right to take that step, before moving on to examine the planning process in general.

“It’s being said that the decision to grant this particular planning application ought to have been a matter for the Executive as a whole, rather than for the Minister acting on her own,” said Humphreys, according to the Belfast Telegraph. “That’s a point of law for the court to consider, and it will hear arguments in full on that.”

The planning issues are to be assessed in the second part of the case next month. Humphreys added: “The court recognises the importance and urgency of this matter, and so will give it the highest level of priority it can.”

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 project was first proposed in 2012, but has since stalled due to legal challenges from local residents and concerns over safety. An original vision for a 38,000-seat venue was overturned by a court in 2014 after it was also challenged by MORA.

Image: Populous