by JULIE ANN SPENCE
* 42,500 seater stadium.
* Conflict resolution centre
A ROW has broken out among unionist politicians after it was revealed that only the building of a centre for conflict resolution and the re-location of the RUAS from Balmoral now remain from the ambitious scheme to regenerate the old Maze prison site.
In January 2006 the first details of the Maze masterplan were revealed, promising an ambitious redevelopment including a 42,500-seater stadium, an indoor arena, hotel, offices, cafes and restaurants, multi-screen cinema, industrial zone and housing and parkland.
Over four years later, with none of the plans started and the iconic National Stadium centrepiece of the regeneration scrapped, the First and Deputy First Minister have announced the latest slimmed down plan for the 360 acre site.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said a Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation will be set up to progress those plans.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said they would shortly submit an EU funding application for a Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Facility on the site.
"It is anticipated that the centre will be a world class facility of international importance designed to strengthen our peace building expertise and to share our experiences wtth others throughout the world" he said.
First Minister Peter Robinson added: "The constitution of a Development Corporation for this strategically important Maze/Long Kesh site will enable us to realise the full economic potential of the site. The site represents a unique opportunity to help revive our economic output in these difficult times.
"The site could potentially create some 6,000 jobs, securing the construction industry in Northern Ireland for years to come. " But while the announcement has been welcomed by DUP politicians Ulster Unionists said Lisburn was getting 'a shrine to terrorists' but missing out on the once in a generation opportunity the national stadium would have provided.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said the development would be 'significant' and added: "This is good news for Lisburn and what we need now is for people to get behind this project and send out a positive message that we are open for business."
But Former UUP Mayor Ronnie Crawford said: "I' and many others were
prepared to accept a properly run Conflict Resolution Centre if that was the
price which had to be paid for the Stadium at the Maze, but now these
politicians have, with the greatest of contempt, deprived us of the stadium
and given us the very thing they deemed so totally unacceptable. Unionism in
Northern Ireland has now run up the white flag."
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LOCAL politicians have given mixed reactions to the development of the former Maze prison site.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson admitted he was "disappointed" the plan to build a National Stadium at the site had not come to fruition but insisted the development would still be "significant".
Mr Donaldson said he believed the new Maze Development Corporation would "hit the ground running" and would bring further details about what would be developed on the site early next year. He also insisted the development would not merely consist of "houses and industrial units" but would be of "regional significance." The Lagan Valley MP denied the peace and reconciliation centre would be a "shrine to Terrorism."
"The Centre will not be located in the listed buildings at the Maze but will be placed in a new, purpose buiite setting that will have an emphasis on the new Northern Ireland, rather than focus on the conflict and division of the past" he said.
"It will seek to draw lessons from the futility and hopelessness that is represented by terrorism and to teach others how to prevent terrorism and build peace. Far from being a shrine for terrorism, it will be a centre where peace is promoted and terrorism is repudiated."
Mr Donaldson also called for everyone to show their support and work to attract investment in the city. "This is good news for Lisburn and what we need now is for people to get behind this project and send out a positive message that we are open for business." The Mayor of Lisburn, DUP Alderman Paul Porter, also welcomed the news.
"I look forward to hearing more details about the forthcoming proposals for the site," he said. "It is fantastic news for Lisburn in terms of the local economy, inward investment, potential job creation and this announcement gives the country some good news in these difficult economic times. This opportunity for investment in Northern Ireland from business, hospitality and tourism sectors is very exciting and Lisburn City Council will do all it can to ensure that this project progresses in the short-term and the longer-term."
Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn also welcomed the announcement but called for clarity on timescales for work to begin. "We also need more detail as to precisely what will be built on the site" he said. "We have been in the situation before where it looked like we would see progress only for hopes to be dashed. We need clear timeframes from the First and Deputy First Ministers."
However, Ulster Unionist Councillor Alderman Jim Dillon accused the DUP of providing a "shrine to terrorism" at the site and asked what had changed since the party rejected the original scheme because of the Conflict Resolution Centre.
"I am glad to see at long last the regeneration is going to take place of this very valuable site'" he said. "What I want to know is what has changed over the last four or five years".
"We could have had the regeneration of the Maze before but we were told by the DUP that preserving the hospital and H block would be a reminder of the Troubles and a shrine to terrorism. Now we have them agreeing that this is the way forward. So I ask what has changed?"
UUP MLA Basil McCrea called the plans a 'wasted opportunity'. He said: "Jeffrey Donaldson is now arguing for a Conflict Resolution Centre. Had he made the same arguments with as much passion some years ago when there was the debate for the stadium, the construction would have not only have been completed by now but we could have had much greater land value, created far more jobs and most importantly had far higher returns of investment. All of these advantages would have been vital for our economy at a diffacuite time.
"The DUP have yet again seen fit to pull a complete U-turn on their original and seemingly non-negotiable stance, and then are trying to convince the public that this result is what they wanted all along. It's no wonder the public are having less and less faith in politicians when the DUP are consistently leading them to believe one thing, then claiming they've always been striving for quite the opposite."
Former Lisburn Mayor, UUP Councillor Ronnie Crawford added: "Some unionist politicians told us repeatedly that there could be no National Stadium at the Maze because it would entail the provision of a 'Republican Shrine'. Now, having deprived Northern Ireland of an iconic National Stadium, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are applying to the EU for £20million to provide the 'Conflict Resolution Centre'.
"I and many others were prepared to accept a properly run Conflict Resolution Centre if that was the price which had to be paid for the Stadium at the Maze, but now these politicians have, with the greatest of contempt, deprived us of the stadium and given us the very thing they deemed so totally unacceptable. Unionism in Northern Ireland has now run up the white flag."
Upper Bann SDLP MLA Dolores added: "The regeneration and development of
the Maze Long Kesh site is long overdue. It is unfortunate that the planned
shared multi-sports stadium will not go ahead at this location but there is
an onus now that we have progress to make the most of this development
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THE original plan for the redevelopment of the Maze site included a host of ambitious plans, which were due to be delivered over the course of 5-15 years, with the first phases due to already be completed by 2010.
|A multi-sports stadium with a capacity for 42,000 spectators
A hotel, conference facilities and offices
An International Centre for Conflict Transformation
High quality employment space with the potential to create up to 4000 jobs
Rural excellence and innovation zone
Exhibition centre, showgrounds and equestrian centre
The relocation of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society
Multi-purpose arena with capacity for 3000 spectators within a sports zone
Leisure and entertainment facilities
Cafes and restaurants
Network of civic spaces for a variety of activities including specialist markets
High quality new housing, to include social housing, of around 200 units
Children's play area
A Sustainable Living Centre
Parkland and landscaping
New motorway junction, primary link road to the M1 and upgrading of Blaris Road
Public transport provision including rail link, park and ride facilities, new bus link and extensivepedestrian and cycle links
A GROUP of loyalist ex-prisoners have called for the last remaining H-block at the site of the Maze prison to be demolished to prevent it becoming the 'Colditz of republicanism'.
Tom Roberts, director of EPIC, said unionists will be marginalised and unable to participate fully in a proposed conflict resolution centre if the existing buildings are allowed to remain.
He said the group was supportive of the proposed centre but wanted to see the old buildings demolished. "We made a submission during the consultation period quite a number of years ago now and we advocated at that time the prison should be demolished — and I haven't heard anything which has changed that opinion'" he said.
"I have no objection in principle to the conflict resolution centre provided it was inclusive of all sections of society here.
"You hear the much quoted thing about it being turned into a republican shrine, even if republicans were genuine in not wishing that to happen, they don't really have to work too much at it for that to become a reality.
"For the international community, the two most significant events that took place in there would have been the hunger strike and the prison escape in 1983, so that is going to grasp the imagination of the international visitor, so you would have a situation where unionists would be marginalised and not having a full participation in the project if that were the case.
"You would have the unionist people, not just the ex-prisoners, but the unionist community having to suffer the Maze being the IRA's Colditz'" he concluded.