Design & Development

Construction work set to commence at Casement Park

Featured image credit: Populous

The Ulster division of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has announced that initial development work is set to commence on the Casement Park project, stating the news is an “important step forward” for the much-delayed stadium venture.

Ulster GAA has said it will commence necessary maintenance and pre-enabling works next week for the development of the new Casement Park in Belfast. Activity commencing next week, which will continue throughout March, will be focused on initial ground works and this will be followed by site clearance from April to June, including the removal of the old terracing.  

Ulster GAA said the Department for Communities (DfC) is leading the procurement of the main construction contract for the project through UK Government frameworks for major strategic infrastructure projects. 

In November, Ulster GAA announced that Heron Bros would no longer be delivering the main works contract for a redeveloped Casement Park. Heron Bros had been Ulster GAA’s long-standing construction contractor for the Casement Park project and participated fully in a due diligence exercise after its joint venture partner, Buckingham Group Contracting, fell into administration.

Ulster GAA said that Heron Bros demonstrated its capacity and capability to bring the project forward, but restrictions of the Public Contract Regulations prevented the governing body from pursuing its preferred option of retaining and modifying the existing contract for the work.

Casement Park has been closed since 2013. Plans for a new venue have been on the table for more than 10 years but the project has stalled due to financial and planning issues.

Work on a new 34,578-seat Gaelic sports stadium, designed by Populous, had initially been due to begin in the first half of 2022. Planning permission was granted in July 2021, and in October it was announced that UEFA Euro 2028 will be co-hosted by England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A redeveloped Casement Park is scheduled to be Northern Ireland’s sole host venue.

Ulster GAA stadium board chairman, Tom Daly, said in a statement yesterday (Thursday): “Commencing works on site has always been a crucial milestone for the redevelopment of Casement Park and we are looking forward to this exciting new phase of the project with a targeted timeline for the delivery of Ulster GAA’s provincial stadium and Antrim’s new home.  

“It has been a long and frustrating journey to get to this point, however this is an important step forward as we prepare for the delivery phase of the project. Casement Park will host some of the largest and most significant GAA games on the island and it will also be a seven day a week hub that the whole community can access and enjoy.”

The project has been further hindered by the lack of a functioning Executive at Stormont for two years. Costs have also reportedly risen from the originally intended £77.5m (€90.5m/$97.5m) to over £100m.

The GAA is funding part of the project, but is yet to reach a deal with Stormont to complete the financing package. The Belfast Telegraph said the UK and Irish governments have indicated they are prepared to offer additional funding.

Earlier this week, Stormont’s new Communities Minister, Gordon Lyons, told BBC Northern Ireland: “The big difficulty that we face with Casement is going to be the issue of funding, because the money that was made available and that we stand over is not going to be enough to cover the expected costs, and that does have consequences.”

Lyons also stated there is no clear idea on the levels of additional funding that could be put forward by the Irish and UK governments. He added: “That is going to be key if this is going to be progressed, that we have an understanding of how much that is, but that is not something we have at this moment in time.”

The impasse surrounding Casement Park has led to question marks being placed against its role as a Euro 2028 venue. Daly added yesterday: “With Casement Park being the only regional venue that can host unique global events such as Euro 2028, we are also delighted to support our friends and colleagues at the Irish FA by providing the stadium as a tournament venue for the bid and we are excited by the opportunities that this will create for all of society. 

“With works commencing on site next week we will be working with the local community to ensure that they are fully informed on every step of the journey. As our team commences this phase of the project, we would like to thank the local community for their support and patience over the last number of years as we plan for an exciting new future for Casement Park.”