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Page last updated at 10:17 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Rugby chiefs reject stadium plan

Blanchflower Stadium
The front view of the proposed new Blanchflower Stadium

Ulster Rugby has said it is not committed "in any way" to a proposed new stadium in east Belfast.

A business consortium, Eastonville Traders Ltd, is proposing to build a 20,000 capacity stadium for football and rugby in the Sydenham area.

Ulster Rugby added that the lack of "any appropriate business case" meant it does not form part of its plans to develop stadia for the sport.

The IFA said it welcomes any proposals "provided the finances stack up".

The arena would be built on a 90-acre site beside the Danny Blanchflower Stadium, but would not host GAA fixtures.

The consortium claimed the project is of interest to both the Irish Football Association and rugby's Ulster Branch.

The stadium would cost £66m to build and could be erected within 18 months.

The new facility would provide an alternative to the collapsed Maze Stadium project, but would not involve the GAA.

It is proposed that the development would also house a national training centre for football and rugby, and a hotel, and that the total cost would be around £128m.

We believe our project is economically sustainable

Gilbert Graham, project manager

However, Ulster Rugby has ruled out the proposed stadium as a training venue.

It said: "Ulster Rugby confirms that they are in discussions with Newforge Country Club with regard to extending their lease of the site as a training base for a further ten years, during which time a dedicated training facility will be developed on-site.

"We are currently undertaking a £4.5million redevelopment project at Ravenhill, supported in part by DCAL and Sport NI, building a state-of-the-art grandstand on the terrace side of the ground which will accommodate 20 corporate boxes and 532 premium seats."

Belfast City Council are understood to be aware of the plans and it is believed that discussions have taken place with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

A proposal for a smaller stadium in the area has been in the pipeline for a number of years and was originally designed to complement the larger Maze Stadium project.

The consortium believe that the cost of this project is more realistic in the current economic climate, the location more neutral, and it would provide better road links.

The stadium would also be close to George Best Belfast City Airport, and a link to the airport, via a new walkway, is proposed.

A proposal for a new railway halt on the present route from Belfast to Bangor is also a possibility.

Blanchflower Stadium
How the Blanchflower Stadium would look from the inside

No Irish League club has signed up to the proposal but one option for the future could see the venue offer a new home to Glentoran, if they sell their existing home at the Oval and move to the new stadium as tenants.

It is believed the only other proposal being considered by DCAL at present is the redevelopment of Windsor Park.

The IFA has not publicly confirmed its interest in the stadium, which it is thought will be named after Danny Blanchflower.

"The Irish FA is currently working with the Sports Minister on a range of different options regarding a sports stadium in Northern Ireland," said an IFA statement.

The GAA has said it will present fresh proposals of their own for a new multi-purpose stadium to DCAL before the end of the week.

Gilbert Graham, Project Manager for the Scheme, said he believed the proposal was economically sustainable.

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