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Last Updated: Friday, 5 December, 2003, 17:27 GMT
Public views sought over Maze
Maze Prison
The prison held many of NI's most notorious paramilitaries
A major public consultation exercise to decide the future of the former Maze prison site in Northern Ireland is being launched.

A campaign aimed at inviting proposals for developing the 360-acre former prison and Long Kesh security site outside Lisburn gets under way on Friday.

The Maze prison, which held many of the province's most notorious paramilitaries during the Troubles, closed in September 2000.

It was shut as a result of the Good Friday Agreement peace accord's early prisoner release scheme.

Paramilitary prisoners are now held in Maghaberry prison in County Antrim.

The campaign is being launched by the Maze Consultation Panel and includes newspaper advertisements in the north and south of Ireland, Great Britain, Europe and the USA.

The panel's policy is to rule nothing out and to rule nothing in at this stage
David Campbell
Panel chairman

A website is also being launched and a number of events and meetings are planned.

Panel chairman David Campbell and vice-chairman Michael McKernan appealed to everyone in Northern Ireland to play their part.

They also urged property developers "to embrace opportunities that this highly significant and valuable regional development site presents".

"All ideas are welcome", added Mr Campbell, "the panel's policy is to rule nothing out and to rule nothing in at this stage.

"Proposals must, however, meet one or more of the government's objectives for the future use of the site in terms of bringing economic, social and community benefits, the development of something new and innovative and the creation of an internationally recognised beacon for Northern Ireland".

The Policing Board proposed last year that the Maze could house a new police training college for PSNI recruits.

This first stage of the consultation process runs until 29 February next year.

The panel will then evaluate the plans and recommend the best options and future uses of the site by 30 April.

Political representatives

The Maze Consultation Panel was established as part of the government's Reinvestment and Reform Initiative by Stormont minister Ian Pearson.

Under the initatives, the UK Government agreed to transfer key security assets to the Northern Ireland Executive without charge, so that sites which symbolised conflict could become the "engine for economic and social regeneration".

Ownership of the site will be transferred from the Prison Service to the executive on 31 March 2004.

The panel is made up of appointees from the four main political parties, representatives from key government departments and the chief executive of Lisburn City Council.

BBC NI's Michael Bradley:
"The campaign includes newspaper advertisements in the north and south of Ireland, Great Britain, Europe and the USA"

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