Sporting village plan for south Belfast

Artist's impression of the redeveloped Windsor Park An artist's impression of how the redeveloped Windsor Park will look

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Discussions are under way about transforming the Boucher Road area of south Belfast into a sporting village.

A feasibility study has been carried out on behalf of Belfast City Council.

Talks have focused on developing Midgley Park, the Olympia Leisure Centre and Boucher Road playing fields.

The idea is backed by the sports minister, environment minister and the Irish Football Association.

News of the discussions about a sporting village emerged on the day environment minister Alex Attwood granted planning permission for the redevelopment of Windsor Park football stadium in south Belfast.

Under the plan, the Irish Football Association will build an 18,000 seater stadium and two new spectator stands.

Midgley Park forms part of the Windsor Park stadium grounds.

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said she would be doing everything she could to ensure the sporting village project happened.

"We have had discussions with Belfast City Council, the important thing is we have an opportunity here for development not just around Windsor Park but also around sport and leisure provision in south Belfast," she said.

"There needs to be good investment in this area, it is a deprived and has not had the investment that is needed and I think it would be good if we could get this all sorted out in one go."

Mr Attwood said he hoped the sporting village project would happen.

"The future is integrated sites bringing together all the local community's needs, that is the way to go.

"I think that is the way this project will develop in the future."

He said the granting of planning permission for Windsor Park would lead to "the creation of a stadium that is fit for the 21st century".

Irish Football Association president Jim Shaw said he was "totally supportive" of the plans.

"I think it would open up this whole area from Boucher Road to the stadium and make it an attractive proposition," he added.

Mr Shaw said he thought the chances were "more than 50-50" that the project would happen.

Windsor Park is part of a stadium redevelopment plan in Northern Ireland that also includes Ravenhill rugby ground and the GAA's Casement Park.

Start Quote

This ambitious, exciting project is important in sporting terms to everyone in Northern Ireland and will also create employment opportunities for local people, particularly during the construction process”

End Quote Alex Attwood Environment Minister
International venue

In total, the Stomont Executive has allocated up to £110m in public funding for the three building projects, through the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL).

More than £25m is to go towards the redevelopment of Windsor Park, the home venue for Northern Ireland's international football team.

The IFA is also set to locate its new headquarters there, moving from its current base in Windsor Avenue.

The green light was given for the project following the fastest ever turnaround for a major planning application in Northern Ireland.

Permission was granted 11 weeks after the application was received by the planning authorities.

Mr Attwood described it as a "tremendous boost for football and for sport".

"This ambitious, exciting project is important in sporting terms to everyone in Northern Ireland and will also create employment opportunities for local people, particularly during the construction process," he said.

"This is why I made sure that we were in a position to turn it around quickly."

Ms Ní Chuilín described the planning approval for Windsor Park as a key milestone in Northern Ireland's stadium redevelopment programme and said it was a good example of cross-departmental co-operation at Stormont.

'Regeneration'

She said: "The Irish FA are now able to move to the next stage of their ambition to create a modern stadium to cater for the needs of the whole football community.

"While the modernisation of Windsor Park represents a huge boost for football fans, this project and the others at Ravenhill and Casement are also about building community foundations and providing a catalyst for the regeneration of the areas around the stadiums."

Construction work is scheduled to begin at Windsor Park in August with the phased project expected to be completed by the summer of 2015.

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