Friday, 2 May 2008

New Belfast stadium still tenable

The Guardian’s Henry McDonald is in agreement with popular wisdom which maintains that Peter Robinson will sound the death knell of the Maze Stadium project before his elevation from Finance Minister to First Minister. Speculation has been rife for some time that Robinson would not assent to a business case which is sketchy at best. The scheme has been discredited for some time and the longevity of plans to build a sport facility at the site of the ex-prison can be attributed more to political expediency than any real conviction that the Maze site was the best available.

For quite some time a majority of Northern Ireland football supporters have voiced their preference for a stadium in Belfast with the attendant amenities and infrastructure which this would entail. The Northern Ireland football team has always had most to lose if a 30,000 seat stadium was to be built at the Maze. Ulster rugby and the Ulster GAA agreed to use the stadium for some games should it be built, but both sports intended to keep their homes at Ravenhill and Casement Park respectively. It was only the IFA prepared to put all its eggs in the Maze Stadium basket.

Subsequently it will be the Northern Ireland football team with most to gain should the planned stadium flounder. Robinson has indicated that separate provision would be made for all three sports if, as expected, he decides to kill off the Maze proposals. This may take the form of improvements to all three sports’ existing homes. The idea of a new and separate home for football in Belfast is not untenable however. Belfast City Council has indicated an interest in hosting a stadium through private finance which would also provide a venue for concert events. A sufficient redistribution of the Maze Stadium’s capital allocation could be enough to get that project up and running.

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