Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland


Make it the Maze and all Northern Ireland will win

Council Chief Executive Norman Davidson tells Stacey Heaney why the new stadium should be here

LISBURN City Council's Chief Executive has said the council is 'very hopeful' the plan to develop a national stadium at the Maze will get the go ahead from Finance Minister Peter Robinson.

Mr Norman Davidson said the Maze project - of which the stadium is just one element - would be 'an unprecedented facility' in Northern Ireland which would put Lisburn on the international map.

Speaking in the wake of last week's report, commissioned by Belfast City Council, which outlined five alternative sites to the Maze Stadium, Mr Davidson spoke about what the Maze could offer to the whole country and the opportunities for the whole community that such a stadium would create.

Referring to the report, Mr Davidson said, "There doesn't seem to by anything particularly new in it, it's the same sort of sites: Ormeau Park, the North Foreshore, the Blanchflower Stadium, it seems to be sites that have been mentioned over the previous months and years by Belfast and my understanding is that the sites that have been identified again were previously looked at in the process and found to be lacking, which is why ultimately the Maze site was recommended as the preferred site."

He continued, "Belfast has always taken the position that the major sports stadium should be within the city of Belfast and I can understand that, so Belfast is doing everything it possibly can to get it there, but that doesn't mean that they are right.

"They have had a very prolonged campaign but the Maze was identified in a lengthy process by the Strategic Investment Board and was endorsed by all political parties.

"I was a member of the original working group, and then a follow-up group, which I was not on, again endorsed the Maze, so all political parties have signed up. That's the report which went to Alderman Poots as Culture Arts and Leisure Minister and has now gone on to Finance Minister Peter Robinson's desk. "We understand that there's a process that has to be gone through, and it's quite right that the figures have to be checked and double checked and any charge to the public purse is minimised as much as possible, but we would be very hopeful that the Minister for Finance and Personnel will feel able to recommend to the Executive that yes, the figures do stack up.

"But it's not just about the figures," Mr Davidson explained, "it's about the fact that all three sporting bodies have said, 'Yes, it's the Maze,' that's where they want to go to and all political parties have said, 'Yes, it's the Maze,' and my understanding is that any other site would not attract the same widespread sporting support, which I think would be a big disadvantage for any new stadium proposal at this stage.

`This would really lift us up to the next level'

"Also what Belfast, I understand, is talking about, and what they've always talked about, is really just a stand-alone sports stadium. What's proposed at the Maze is much, much more than just a sports stadium, it's all the surrounding facilities, hopefully including the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society; it's the whole package that makes the Maze even more attractive and provides something that no site in Belfast has ever been able to match, so while public expenditure is desperately important, there are wider community considerations as well." The GAA have repeatedly made it clear they will not support a stadium in Belfast and Mr Davidson agreed the unanimous support of football, rugby and GAA for the Maze was a major factor in its favour. "There aren't too many projects that are able to enlist the support of all political parties and the three sporting bodies, it's very, very unusual to get that sort of consensus and I think it would be a shame if that cross-community, cross-sporting consensus was lost," he said.

"I don't know what impact to the business case for the Belfast proposals there would be, for instance, if the GAA did not sign up. I think they will be building it primarily as a football stadium and that's what their figures are trying to stack up against."

Speaking about the importance of the Maze project to Lisburn, Mr Davidson commented: "It would be a massive development, not just for the income that it would bring into the city as the rate base would be significantly increased, but it really rubber stamps us being a city.

"It would be an unprecedented international facility which would attract not just sport but other events, conferences, concerts, the agricultural side of it, so it would be a tremendous investment. It would be the biggest investment that the city has ever had and it would really lift us up to the next level, it really would put us on the international map.

"The Council would seriously hope that this latest effort by Belfast City Council will not delay the decision that needs to be taken," he continued. "One of the benefits of going to the Maze and having the Stadium there was that Northern Ireland would benefit from the potentially enormous opportunities that the 2012 Olympics would bring. Timing now is getting critical if this province is to take advantage of an Olympic opportunity. "The decision really has to be made in the very near future if the stadium is to be built in time to accommodate an Olympic event, so we would hope that both the Minister for Culture and the Minister for Finance and Personnel have really got all the information.

"Time is of the essence, this has gone on for years and I'm sure this council would really urge the Executive to now take the decision that has to be taken and hopefully it's the Maze."

Ulster Star