Northern Ireland

Maze prison site: Green light given for showgrounds plan

Former Maze prison site
Image caption The development is earmarked for the former Maze prison site near Lisburn

The environment minister has granted planning permission for new international standard showgrounds and livestock show rings at the former Maze prison site near Lisburn.

The application was made by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS).

Alex Attwood said the Balmoral Show would be able to take place at its new location at the Maze in May.

He said he had given "careful consideration" to the showgrounds plan, "interrogating all of the issues".

"I have concluded that effective traffic management by the applicant around events should keep disruption to a minimum," he said.

"The Balmoral Show is an important event within Northern Ireland's calendar.

"The proposed relocation by the RUAS is seen as a catalyst for further redevelopment on the Maze/Long Kesh site, which has been identified as a site of strategic importance."

The Department of Environment had classed the plan as an Article 31 application, which indicates it is a major development.

There will be car parking for 10,000 vehicles at the site.

Mr Attwood said the application had been determined within six months of its receipt by officials in his department.

"As with all major planning applications I am making decisions quickly after giving careful consideration to the individual merits of each case," he said.

"This timely planning decision demonstrates my determination to make a planning system more fit to achieve its purpose and one which will enable the RUAS to relocate the Balmoral Show for May 2013."

Members of the RUAS voted in favour of moving their headquarters to the site of the former Maze prison last June.

The planning application was submitted later that month.

The chairman of the Maze Long Development Corporation has welcomed Mr Attwood's decision to grant planning permission.

Terence Brannigan said it "reflects the momentum now being created for the development of the Maze Long Kesh site".

"We have worked closely with RUAS to progress and facilitate their proposed development of the 65 acre Balmoral Park as an important and integral part of Maze Long Kesh.

"We now look forward to welcoming the Balmoral Show to the site in May and I am confident that this is only the first step in maximising the economic development potential of this significant 347 acre site," the chairman added.

Sinn Fein has also welcomed the move.

Its North Belfast MLA, Gerry Kelly, said: "The beginning of the regeneration of this former prison camp site is a sign of the changing times and one that should benefit everyone in the north."

"We look forward to the further regeneration of the whole site so as to maximise its economic, historic and reconciliation potential," Mr Kelly added.

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