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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 09:09 GMT
Prison site plan for NI stadium
A major obstacle has been removed to Northern Ireland getting a new 55m multi-sports stadium.

A cross-party body has agreed a plan which would see a 30,000 seat arena for soccer, rugby and GAA, being built on the old Maze prison site.

The hospital where republican hunger strikers died would also be retained under proposals for the 360-acre site.

The government must consider the report by the Maze Consultation Panel before making a final decision.

If the development goes ahead, the panel believes it could lead to 1bn of public and private investment.

It is understood that the panel's report, compiled after months of negotiations, is supported by all its members, including DUP and Sinn Fein representatives.

Its plan would also see an International Centre for Conflict Transformation built on another part of the site.

This would involve not only the retention of the prison hospital, but also one of the H-blocks, as well as other buildings including the administration block.

The problem with Gaelic sports is that it is bigger playing surface and fans watching rugby or football are going to be much further away
David Keirle
Stadium architect

It is proposed the centre would have links to Harvard and Boston Universities in America.

A spokesman for the local Halftown Residents Group said that while they welcomed the jobs that would be created by the redevelopment of the site, they want an area of the site to be designated as a buffer zone between the stadium and local housing.

"Certainly we would welcome the sports stadium for Northern Ireland," said Jackie McQuillan.

However, he added that a buffer zone would protect residents from the traffic and noise associated with the new development. Chief executive of the IFA Howard Wells said he was enthusiastic about the plans.

"I think looking at it given its location which is 10 miles from the city centre, which is about the same distance as Trafalgar Square to Wembley but on a much easier route and near to a motorway, I suspect it has a lot going for it," he said.

"I assume, therefore, that the economic arguments will stack up."

However, stadium architect David Keirle said there were some concerns about meeting the requirements of a GAA stadium within budget.

"The problem with Gaelic sports is that it is a much bigger facility, much bigger playing surface and therefore fans watching rugby or football are going to be much further away and you're going to lose the atmosphere," he said.

Plans for the Maze site include retaining one of the H-blocks
Plans for the Maze site include retaining one of the H-blocks

"Those people who have been to Croke Park, though it is a wonderful facility, if you were to put a soccer pitch on that a lot of people would be so far away they would not see the ball. You have to think of that very carefully."

The proposals also include an international equestrian centre and showgrounds.

It is thought the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society wants to move from its current home at Balmoral where it stages an annual show.

The proposals also envisage a zone for industrial development.

Coca Cola has been linked to the Maze site, as facilities would include bars, restaurants and a hotel.

The Maze has been one of three locations short-listed for the site of the stadium.

The others have been the North Foreshore of Belfast Lough and the Titanic Quarter in east Belfast.

Last month, Sports Minister Angela Smith said no decision would be taken until a detailed economic appraisal and business case had been completed.

The GAA last year agreed to stage some games at the proposed new sports stadium.

The government has insisted the stadium would only be built if it had the backing of soccer, rugby and GAA.

BBC NI's political correspondent Gareth Gordon:
"The plan would also see an International Centre for Conflict Transformation built on another part of the site"

Maze could become leisure mecca
23 Feb 05 |  Northern Ireland
Three contenders for NI stadium
20 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland
NI stadium 'needs support'
24 May 04 |  Northern Ireland
Multi-sport stadium on horizon
18 May 04 |  Northern Ireland

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