Crusaders Football Club plans shared north Belfast campus

An illustration of the proposed campus and stadium, from the developers' brochure An illustration of the proposed campus and stadium, from the developers' brochure

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A leading Irish League football club is behind plans to build a shared education campus in north Belfast.

Crusaders Football Club has drawn up proposals for new education and sports facilities close to their Seaview stadium on Belfast's Shore Road.

The junior club, Newington Youth Football Club, was also involved in drawing up the plans.

The proposed site is the current Loughside playing fields, between the M2 and the Mount Vernon estate.

'Sensitive site'

If the campus goes ahead, the clubs said they would seek to develop a 4,000 capacity shared sports stadium on the site.

They added that they have already held a number of preliminary discussions about the project with prospective partners.

They include the Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB), the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE).

The clubs have also met with representatives from the Irish Football Association (IFA) and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).

However, in their initial expression of interest to the Department of Education, the clubs acknowledge that the proposed site "would be perceived to be within" the Protestant, unionist and loyalist community.

The document states that "it is a sensitive site in community relations terms and does need the involvement and support of the clubs, the community and the whole political spectrum".

Deadline

The Loughside site is currently owned by Belfast City Council so it would also have to agree to be part of any development.

Crusaders and Newington previously announced plans for a shared stadium in the area in 2008, but that did not progress.

They now hope that building a shared education campus first will provide fresh impetus for a stadium.

In January, the Department of Education called for interested parties to submit proposals for shared education campuses, in which a number of schools come together to share a site, buildings, classes and sports facilities.

The initial model is the Lisanelly Campus in Omagh, County Tyrone, where six existing schools will eventually be sited.

Education Minister John O'Dowd wants to create a further 10 similar campuses.

Expressions of interest from groups keen to develop sites must be received by 31 March.

It is this deadline that Crusaders FC and Newington YC are working towards.

Mark Langhammer, from Seaview Enterprises which is behind the proposal, said the plan was at a very early stage.

"The next stage is actually to apply to the Department of Education," he said.

"This particular proposal is not dependent on whether there's a stadium there or not, it focuses on education.

"The stadium isn't a must do in the middle of this, it's a 'might happen'."

He added: "Of the dozen schools that are in the immediate locality, all of them have very significant facilities deficits as measured by the schools' handbook.

"What we're not proposing is that schools co-locate here, we're proposing that they share classrooms and fields to do particular education programmes."

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