by JENNY MONROE
Balmoral Park Illustrative 2030 Vision
THE Chief Executive of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) says he is delighted that an overwhelming majority of the Society's members voted in favour of the move from Balmoral to a new site at the Maze and dismissed fears that roads in the area will not be able to cope.
Members voted in favour of the Legacy Project — the proposal to develop the current site in south Belfast for residential and commercial use, and reinvest in new showgrounds at what will be known as Balmoral Park, at an historic special meeting on Tuesday.
Work will start immediately at the new site to ensure it is ready to
host the 2013 Balmoral Show.
A majority vote of attending members was required to give the project the green light.
RUAS Chief Executive, Colin McDonald who lives in Lisburn, said the move would secure the long-term finances of the organisation, develop new, world-class showgrounds, and position the RUAS at the hub of a potential centre for rural excellence at the new location.
"We always knew that, for many, this would be a 'hearts and minds' issue which is totally understandable due to our connection to the King's Hall and the entire Balmoral site.
"This proposal has always focused on the commercial realities — market competition, capacity, and the future of the King's Hall. Many years of work have already been invested in the Legacy Project to ensure it is the best option, enabling us to secure our finances for the long term and reinvent, develop and grow.
"I am delighted that our members have grasped the rationale behind the Legacy Project and supported the RUAS Council in this groundbreaking vote. They have risen to the occasion, demonstrated the foresight of their predecessors, and seized the moment."
Some residents in the Maze area have questioned if there is sufficient infrastructure ahead of a planned junction onto the Ml, but Mr McDonald said there was enough space on the 360-acre site to ensure traffic build-ups could be avoided.
"We have ample roads and car parking to move traffic around the site," he said. "It's different from a traffic jam where you have a bottleneck - ours has traffic coming on to an open site where it can spread out."
He explained that a new entrance will be developed off the Halftown Road on the Hillsborough side of this area which will help with traffic until the M1 slip road is ready in 2015.
"43 acres of hard standing car park is in the process of being built at the moment adjacent to what will be Balmoral Park," he explained.
"The hard standing area will be helpful when there is heavy rain," said Mr McDonald when asked about planning for bad weather conditions.
Mr McDonald thanked Lisburn City Council for all its help during the development process.
LISBURN City Council has expressed its delight that the Balmoral Show will move to the Maze site next year.
The Mayor, Alderman William Leathem said it was 'a vote of confidence
in the City'.
"There is an unprecedented opportunity to expand and build upon the world-class reputation of the RUAS, and everything that it will bring with it to Lisburn" he said. "As well as being good for Lisburn, the relocation to the Maze is a sound commercial decision for the RUAS and I am delighted that the overwhelming majority of the voting Members agreed with this historic move.
"We hope to see more events and projects coming on board with this announcement and the Council looks forward to maximising the opportunities that this major development in our City will bring."
Alderman James Tinsley, Chairman of the Planning Committee said it was now all systems go to ensure the new Balmoral Park at the Maze would be ready to host the 2013 Balmoral Show.
"The Council, for its part, will do all it can to facilitate and progress the development of Balmoral. Park. We have been working very hard to ensure that this multi-million pound proposal becomes a reality which will benefit all involved" he said.
Councillor Uel Mackin said he was 'most impressed' by a briefing on development plans , given to councillors by the RUAS agents.
Councillor Allan Ewart said he hoped it would be the first of many developments in the area.
"It is a welcome boost for the local economy. The construction on the site, the infrastructural improvements and the visitors to the site will help to boost the local economy" he said. "Many jobs will be needed to build and service the area, and it will bring more spend into the local economy. I will try and ensure that the wishes of the local community are brought to those who are involved in this welcome development."
Councillor Ronnie Crawford commended the RUAS members. He said: "The Office of First and Deputy First Minister have been dragging their heels on the development of this site which has been in their possession for around ten years. No favours have been shown to Lisburn ratepayers in that time.
"This is the first piece of good news and the RUAS are to be commended on their decision. Hopefully this will kick-start further announcements so that this site may be developed within a much faster timescale with all the much-needed benefits to our city"
Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan said the move 'should bring a much needed boost to jobs and the local economy in Lagan Valley'.