LAGAN Valley's three DUP MLAs have accused their party colleague, Sports minister Gregory Campbell, of scoring an own goal after he rejected plans for an iconic multi-sports stadium at the Maze.
After months of leaks it was finally confirmed plans for the state of the art 42,500-seater stadium, which would have created thousands of jobs, is not going ahead. Mr Campbell claimed the plan did not enjoy 'sufficient political consensus'.
However, in a joint statement Lagan Valley DUP MLAs Jeffrey Donaldson, Edwin Poots and Jonathan Craig described the decision as "deeply disappointing and criticised the minister and some senior civil servants.
"Despite our best efforts to secure the stadium, it has been evident from the outset that some senior civil servants who cannot countenance major public sector investment anywhere other than Belfast or Londonderry were determined to block the Maze stadium, hence the misleading figure they produced that the stadium could cost the public purse in excess of £700 million" they said.
"The reality is that a private sector consortium had placed a bid to build the stadium at a cost of £80 million, with a maximum 10% cap on any costs over that being met from the public purse. The business case was produced by the same company that carried out the business case for the Emirates stadium in London and concluded the Maze stadium would operate profitably with a £2 million surplus per annum which would have been placed in a sinking fund for long term maintainence and upkeep. It would appear that the view of certain civil servants who have a jaundiced view of this proposal was accepted rather than undertaking an assessment that was rigorously investigated and tested.
"As a consequence, Northern Ireland will lose out on having a premier sporting venue," they said, "and sport will lose out on having a facility that is fit for purpose, where our sporting heroes can perform with pride. In addition, the community has lost out on the jobs that would have flown from this major construction project.
"As Lagan Valley MLAs we restate our commitment to ensure that substantial regeneration takes place at the site and we remain committed to the delivery of a major public/private development at the Maze with the creation of thousands of jobs."
The MLAs concluded: "We have today had discussions with the First Minister and are pleased with his proposals as to how the future development of the site should be handled, which would have a tremendously beneficial inpact on the Maze area and create thousands of new jobs in Lagan Valley. It is only a pity that our colleague Gregory Campbell did not wait until these proposals were progressed before bringing forward this report on the stadium."
NEWS that the final whistle has been blown on the Maze Stadium project by Sports Minister Gregory Campbell came as little surprise.
The Minister is instead to explore alternatives with the soccer, rugby and GAA authorities, with money expected to be given to Linfield and the IFA for an upgrade to Windsor Park so internationals can be played there until a permanent solution is found.
But the news has produced a furious reaction.
Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said it was "a sad day" for local sport and for Lagan Valley. "This is a massive missed opportunity for Northern Ireland" he said. "The Maze stadium project would have provided a large number of jobs, firstly for the construction sector, and later in the area of retail and entertainment. I am extremely annoyed at Gregory Campbell.
"This sends out a sorry message to the world that Northern Ireland will be unable to host major events for the foreseeable future.
"The Maze site offers amazing potential and the DUP now appears to have discarded this potential. Alliance has a vision for Northern Ireland. It looks like some others may not."
Lisburn TUV Councillor Cecil Calvert rounded on 'the DUP/Sinn Fein coalition' over the decision. Alderman Calvert said: "People in Lisburn will be gravely disappointed but not surprised by this decision. It has been evident for some time that the Belfast-centric leadership of the DUP would not allow a stadium at the Maze to go ahead.
"Of course, while the stadium has been binned a shrine to terrorists is still very much a live issue. Unionists will remember this when the next election comes round." In his paper to executive colleagues, Mr Campbell said the plan did not enjoy sufficient political consensus, and he said a net loss to the economy of between £156m and £193m did not compensate for the non-monetary benefits which may flow from a shared stadium.
Mr Campbell said he now intended to help the three sports to develop solutions to their stadia needs.
One possibility would be the upgrading of existing stadia, but he would also be prepared to consider making money available for the construction of a new stadium on a single sport or shared sport basis.
TUV MEP Jim Allister said: "The primary concern which Unionists across the Province have always had about the Maze was the potential it had to become a shrine to Republican terror. Any announcement to scrap the proposed stadium, therefore, does not address the core issue.
"As I have repeatedly warned, the shrine, not the stadium, is the issue. It's permission, under any guise, is a matter which Unionists will not quickly forgive or forget." SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell added: "If we lose the greatest of projects for the pettiest of reasons, no-one will forgive them and no one should."