Northern Ireland

RUAS members vote in favour of Maze move

Cows at Balmoral show
Image caption The show has been held at the King's Hall for more than 100 years

Members of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society have voted in favour of moving their headquarters to the site of the former Maze prison.

More than 600 farmers gathered at the King's Hall in Belfast to vote at a special meeting on Tuesday evening, with a majority backing the move.

The new site at the Maze is to be named Balmoral Park.

Work will commence immediately at the site to ensure it is ready to host the 2013 Balmoral Show.

The annual RUAS show has been held at the King's Hall site in Belfast for more than 100 years.

'World class'

An overwhelming majority of the society's members voted in favour of the Legacy Project, the title of the proposal to develop the current site for residential and commercial use and reinvest in new show grounds at Balmoral Park.

RUAS chief executive Colin McDonald said he was delighted by the outcome which, he said, would secure the long-term finances of the organisation, develop new, world-class show grounds and position the RUAS at the hub of a potential centre for rural excellence at the new location.

"We always knew that, for many, this would be a hearts and minds issue which is totally understandable due to our connection to the King's Hall and the entire Balmoral site," he said.

"This proposal has always focused on the commercial realities - market competition, capacity, and the future of the King's Hall.

"I am delighted that our members have grasped the rationale behind the Legacy Project and supported the RUAS Council in this groundbreaking vote. They have risen to the occasion, demonstrated the foresight of their predecessors, and seized the moment.

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said the site lacked "proper infrastructure".

"It's well known that there's huge executive pressure on the RUAS and others to make this move prematurely, before they deliver on their promise of a motorway connection," he said.

"Until that is done, there is going to be traffic chaos."

However, Mr McDonald said there was enough space on the 360-acre site to ensure traffic build-ups could be avoided.

"We have ample roads and car parking to move traffic around the site," he said.

"It's different from a traffic jam where you have a bottleneck - ours has traffic coming on to an open site where it can spread out."

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