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
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
"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
`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