by JENNY MONROE
THE Balmoral show is set to be bigger and better than ever if Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) members agree on the development of new show grounds at the Maze. Earlier this week it was announced agreement has been reached to enable the RUAS to purchase a 65 acre site at the former prison site. If agreement is reached it is understood RUAS aim to hold the Balmoral Show there in 2013.
Colin McDonald, RUAS Chief Executive who hails from Lisburn, said it will be good news for the local economy.
It will be very busy and will provide a great spin off for local businesses' he predicted. "Lisburn Council has expressed an interest to be associated with the project and a recent public poll showed that 80% were in favour of a move to the Maze, 15% didn't know what to think and only 5% were against." Mr McDonald explained traffic concerns in the Maze area have already been raised with Roads Service and the PSNI and said the large space available on the site will prevent traffic backing up onto the main roads.
If we get people off the roads and into the site there won't be a problem" he said. "Parking on the site will be easier and we will be able to meet a much bigger demand." The Chief Executive said he was pleased the first step of the process is now in place.
"This will allow us to engage with our members and get their feedback to ensure that the new development will meet the requirements of each sector of the Society" Mr McDonald said. "The RUAS Council have progressed the scheme to a high level but it can't go forward without member approval Members need to be made aware of every piece of the strategic jigsaw so that they are able tom e an informed decision and ensure the future of the Society." RUAS accounts show that £4m has been earmarked for the project.
An agricultural centre of excellence will also be built on the Maze site. Most of the RUAS's showground at Balmoral will be sold off for housing to help fund the move to the Maze. There has been much debate over the future usage of the site of the former Maze since it was closed 12 years ago.
Last month it was revealed that European funding worth £18m has been approved for a conflict resolution centre there.
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed the idea of RUAS relocating to the Maze. and is hopeful the first Balmoral show will take place there next year. He said: "This is great news for the regeneration of the Maze site with RUAS providing major conference, recreation and leisure facilities. It is a significant move for Northern Ireland and for the local community."
Local MLA Edwin Poots himself a member of the RUAS, said the move would be of great benefit to the local area and would also result in a better quality Balmoral Show. He commented: "This would be very good for the tourism industry. Hotels, restaurants and local businesses will benefit.
"It will take the Balmoral Show into the direction of attracting more exhibitors and visitors and will provide a much better quality show if it is not restricted by space. The proximity to the border is attractive too and is positive for the area.
"It has been slow in coming, It is the first significant step in the development of the Maze site but it is a very progressive move and will put the Maze facilities to good use. It will act as a catalyst in that more businesses and activities will be developed. It is very clear this is the way forward."
Local Councillor James Baird described the news as positive. He said: "This development will be a positive move for everyone, the RUAS, the former prison site and Lisburn City" he said.
"I look forward to seeing the detailed plans for this development, the vision that the RUAS has for the site and what associated activities or partners they are proposing to adopt in order to make the site an attraction to the whole community all year."
He continued: "With this move there will be employment opportunities not only long term within the RUAS but also during the construction of the site over the years which are welcome.
"Looking to the future I as a member of the RUAS would encourage other members to support the proposals that the Show moves to the Maze site. This is an opportunity of a lifetime for the RUAS and should not be missed."
Other agricultural organisations are expected to follow RUAS to the Maze.