Casement Park overspend 'enough to build five new primary schools'

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CGI image of Casement Park

By Michael McHugh, PA

Predicted overspending on the new Casement Park in West Belfast would fund five new primary schools, an Assembly member said.

No decision has been made about what proportion of the bill the taxpayer foots for the GAA venue, the senior civil servant at the Communities Department said.

The extra cost was due to design problems and follows delays caused by local residents' opposition.

UUP Assembly member Roy Beggs said: "The additional £32 million pounds would build five brand new sizeable primary schools.

"This is a big amount of money and nobody knows where this is going so there is still risk and cost to the public purse.

"Is that not a poor way to manage any project?"

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) at Stormont on Wednesday examined the project's delivery.

Casement is awaiting planning permission and the share of final costs has yet to be agreed between the department and the GAA, permanent secretary Tracy Meharg told the committee.

Mr Beggs added: "Nobody knows who is paying at this stage."

Originally the cost was due to be split 80/20.

The projected price tag is expected to exceed £100 million.

Other projects at Windsor Park and Kingspan Stadium for football and rugby came in roughly on budget, the department said.

Ms Meharg said: "The level of ambition in Casement was much bigger, starting from scratch.

"A brand new stadium on the site, that scale on a close site was a different level of ambition and complexity."

Ms Meharg said £10.5 million had been spent so far on preparatory work before construction begins.

Most of that involved consultants, design and legal fees.

The stadium is due to hold around 34,500 people and be capable of hosting GAA's Ulster final.

It had to be designed twice after safety and residents' concerns were raised with the original blueprint.

Ms Meharg said: "It was a more complex project, it was a project in which there were some relationship issues in the middle of this as well.

"It was a project that was much bigger in scale."

She added: "The experience in Northern Ireland of dealing with a stadium of that size was not as well developed as we would have liked.

"The wider issue is that relationships were broken.

"When they are not operating well communications very often break down as well."

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