Northern Ireland

Casement Park design plans not approved by safety advice team

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Media captionGAA president Aogán Ó Fearghaíl said issues that needed corrected or amended were being resolved

Design plans for the redeveloped Casement Park stadium in west Belfast were not approved by key safety advisers, the BBC has learned.

Advisers were concerned at the amount of time it could take to exit the ground in the event of an emergency.

The Safety Technical Group (STG) was put together to supervise various safety issues around the new stadium.

The GAA said its studies showed 38,000 spectators could get to a place of safety within eight minutes.

It said it had presented the advisers with this information.

Since the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster, emphasis has been put on the time that it takes to ensure people can get out of a sports ground to a place of safety.

The STG is made up of representatives from Sport NI, police, the fire and ambulance services, Belfast City Council and the GAA.

Under a freedom of information request, the BBC obtained the minutes of its last meeting in November 2014.

The GAA did not attend that meeting, but the minutes noted that "neither the design team nor members of the STG are aware of any stadium in Great Britain with similar exiting arrangements".

It adds that the last set of plans it had been given "indicated that the stadium did not comply with the content of the green guide/red guide", which are the safety industry's standard recommendations.

Image caption Ulster GAA said in a statement that it had carried out its own extensive exercise

One of the group's major concerns was that any blockage on the Andersonstown Road could push the exit time limit well over the recommended eight minutes.

According to some estimates, in the event of some emergencies, it could take more than 20 minutes for a crowd of 38,000 to get out of the ground to somewhere safe.

This has been rejected by Ulster GAA, which said in a statement that it had employed an experienced design team, that the Casement Park stadium conforms to the guidance in the current red and green guide regulations, and it carried out its own extensive exercise to ensure that 38,000 spectators could be evacuated to a place of safety within eight minutes.

It said these findings had been presented to the STG group.

With approval from Stormont's Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), the GAA went ahead with a planning application and appointed a contractor, even though the safety group had been advised this would not happen before it had approved the design.

Image caption Residents living close to Casement Park won a judicial review last December

The BBC has also learned that while DCAL had been asked over a 13-month period for documentation on the proposed emergency exiting strategy, it did not provide this.

A DCAL spokesperson said on Wednesday that the STG continued to inform the design process and event management plan, to ensure all the issues raised were addressed.

It added that the stadium could not operate at the required safe capacity without a fully compliant general safety certificate.

Residents living close to Casement Park won a judicial review in December, with the judge saying the decision-making process was "fundamentally flawed".

Carmel McKavanagh of the Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents' Association said she was angry that the views of the STG had only come to light in response to the freedom of information request.

"Perhaps if we had clear sight of these minutes, we wouldn't have had to end up in court," she said.

The BBC understands that the STG has not discussed the Casement Park redevelopment since its last meeting in November.

In a statement DCAL said: "The Safety Technical Group will be fully involved in any future plans involving Casement Park, contributing to the health and safety design process at appropriate stages."

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