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Maze prison stadium in doubt after minister axed

The site of the notorious Maze prison as a venue for Northern Ireland’s multi-use sports stadium is in serious doubt after culture minister Edwin Poots was axed from the Stormont Executive on Tuesday.

Poots, in whose constituency the Maze prison site is situated, has been a long-time supporter of the project. Incoming first minister Peter Robinson has always expressed scepticism about the Maze site’s suitability.

The Maze stadium design was produced by HOK Sport, designer of the Emirates Stadium and Mott MacDonald consultant on the Wembley stadium project.

A fully costed feasibility study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in February found that the Maze site was the best value for money location at £240M (NCE 28 February).

But a leaked document last month suggested that the cost of the arena, hosting football, rugby and Gaelic games, would top £379M over the next seven years.

Robinson, in his former role as finance minister, is understood to have suggested the proposed expenditure does not justify the benefits to community cohesion.
Even Sinn Féin, the project’s most ardent political supporter, has conceded that the 38,000 seat stadium may be located elsewhere, most likely at a site closer to Belfast city centre.

"The issue hasn’t yet been resolved," a Sinn Féin spokesman told NCE this week. "But even if the stadium isn’t built, the International Centre for the Study of Conflict Transformation will still go ahead," he added.

The controversial project to build a stadium, equestrian centre, industrial and retail outlets on the brownfield site as well as a conflict transformation centre in the prison hospital H-block is intrinsically linked to the peace process but is encountering cross-community opposition in Belfast.

Belfast City Council last week announced a shortlist of five potential sites for a multi-purpose sports stadium in the city as alternatives to the Maze/Long Kesh site.

The council is also sending a copy of the business plan for a Belfast stadium, produced by development consultant Driver Jonas, to the Department for Finance and Personnel and Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. The council will also employ the consultant to rank the five sites using set evaluation criteria.

Parks and leisure committee chairman councillor Bob Stoker repeated his call to the Government to work in conjunction with the council and for developers to deliver the stadium in the most cost effective way to meet the needs of the sports and the demands of the fans for a city location.

"All the evidence shows that sports stadia should be in city centre locations and we believe the business plan that has been developed is the clearest indication yet that the stadium should be located in Belfast."

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