Plans for a new GAA stadium in the heart of west Belfast – which is also a proposed new venue for Ireland’s rugby World Cup bid in 2023 – have been quashed.
Planning permission for the 38,000-seater stadium has been overturned after residents objected.
Mr Justice Mark Horner ordered the step at Belfast’s High Court which means it is back to the drawing board for the redevelopment of the GAA’s Casement Park.
The judge said: “I have decided to quash the decision.”
In an earlier hearing he highlighted a number of serious flaws in the decision to give the plans the green light and said Stormont environment minister Mark H Durkan’s decision to grant permission was unlawful.
He identified failures in the environmental impact assessment of the larger stadium and said there had been a reliance by the Department of the Environment (DoE) on an inaccurate figure of 32,600 capacity as a baseline for the project.
The effect of huge crowds on the road network to the stadium was also not properly considered, according to the judge.
The judge found that the environment minister had given his approval without being informed of police concerns about the ability of the adjacent road network to cope with traffic congestion at high-profile events, the crowd’s ability to exit the stadium and the consequent ability of the emergency services to access the grounds which could pose a risk to life.
A residents’ group took legal proceedings against Mr Durkan’s decision to approve the £77 million redevelopment. The Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents’ Association contested that their homes would be dwarfed by the new stadium.
Outside court, Carmel McKavanagh, representing the residents, said it was now up to the GAA to consult them.
“We are delighted at the verdict but also sorry that it has come to this stage.
“We could have avoided all this hassle, the court case and the cost to everybody concerned if the GAA in particular had listened to us.
“Most of the defects the judge pointed out were serious ones, they were not half-hearted ones, they were very serious issues that we put to the GAA and planners a long time ago. We have always said we are not against the development of Casement Park, just the size and scale of it.”
Tom Daly, chairman of the Casement Park Project Board at the GAA, said he was disappointed at the judgment.
“We are fully committed to transforming Casement Park and building a provincial stadium for Ulster which will provide a longstanding legacy for gaelic games, as well as significant social and economic benefits.”
He noted the judgment found the siting, size and scale of the Casement Park development were not contrary to planning policy.
“There is a strong resolve within the GAA to submit a new planning application in 2015 which will again follow the due process and scrutiny of the Department of the Environment. This is in keeping with the GAA’s strategic requirement of developing a fit-for-purpose, modern provincial stadium for Ulster at Casement Park.
“Ulster GAA remains committed to working with the local community to see the completion of a world-class stadium which has far-reaching benefits for all.”
As well as the traditional rugby stadiums such as the Aviva in Dublin, the Kingspan at Ravenhill in Belfast and Thomond Park in Limerick, a 2023 World Cup in Ireland is also hoping to utilise the proposed 38,000-all-seated stadium on the Andersonstown Road site.
Ministers at Stormont have played down the impact of Thursday’s ruling on the rugby world cup bid as it will be some time until it is formally submitted to rugby’s governing body. Stormont sports minister Caral Ni Chuilin has said £61.4 million of government funding for the redevelopment is not in danger of being lost, the court was told.