Northern Ireland

Maze regeneration plan 'revs up' for motor rally

Prison gates
Image caption In addition to being a prison and airfield the Maze has also been used as a military base and internment camp

A new stage of the Maze regeneration plan begins on Friday when the former prison hosts part of the 2010 'Retro' motor rally.

The rally will visit the Maze 50 years after the last car race took place on the Maze/Long Kesh racing circuit.

It will run from the 29 to 31 October, with the Maze sections taking place on Friday 29 and Saturday 30 October.

The old Long Kesh airfield was used by the RAF during World War II and became a venue for race meetings in 1957.

The race was organised by the Ulster Automobile Club (UAC) and is part of the Circuit of Ireland Retrospective Trial.

UAC president Robin McKinney raced on the circuit himself in 1960.

He said the club chose the site because it was looking for somewhere "special" to celebrate holding its 25th Retro rally.

"Having raced here before, I am delighted to be returning to the Maze/Long Kesh circuit as there is a lot of history attached to it," he said.

Significant milestone

"Paddy Hopkirk has raced here and I was fortunate to purchase and drive the great John Surtees' Aston Martin here in 1960."

At 360 acres the Maze Long Kesh site is currently one of the largest publicly-owned regeneration sites in Northern Ireland.

Over the years, in addition to being a prison and airfield the Maze has also been used as a military base and internment camp.

It has been highlighted as a place 'of regional significance' for redevelopment and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister established the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation to manage the site.

The plans made for the future of the site have been highly controversial.

Almost £12.5m has been spent on the potential redevelopment.

The prison, where 10 men died in the 1981 republican hunger strikes, closed in 2000.

Plans to build a multi-sports stadium on the site were rejected in 2009.

The proposed stadium had divided political and sporting opinion. The sports minister at the time said it did not enjoy sufficient political consensus.

Some unionists were unhappy about some of the prison structures becoming listed buildings.

They expressed fears that they had the potential to become a "shrine" to republican hunger strikers who died in the jail in 1981.

Republicans argued the jail was an important part of Irish history and would like the site to become a conflict transformation centre.

The development corporation was set up as part of an agreement between Unionist and Nationalist politicians.

Although the precise nature of the development has yet to be determined, it seems likely that a conflict centre along with a new headquarters for the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) will be part of it.

The RUAS also plans to move its annual Balmoral agricultural show to the site.

Kyle Alexander, programme director of the Maze/Long Kesh programme delivery unit said hosting the rally was a "significant milestone" for the redevelopment plan.

"We are delighted to welcome the UAC's 2010 'Retro' car rally. I am looking forward to seeing the site transformed and hope it's the first of many events we will have here," he said.

"We are committed to transforming MLK (Maze/Long Kesh) into a destination for everyone to share that maximizes its economic development, historical and reconciliation potential. With a site of this size, there is much potential to create a destination of international significance."

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