Northern Ireland

Plans for former Maze prison site get go-ahead

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Media captionA 3D rendering showing the plans for the former Maze prison site

Planning permission for a controversial peace centre at Northern Ireland's former Maze prison has been granted.

It follows years of political disagreement over what should be done with the site near Lisburn which housed paramilitary prisoners during the Troubles from 1971 to 2000.

Ten men died at the prison in the 1981 republican hunger strikes.

Unionists were concerned it should not become a "republican shrine".

While there have been protests by some people who oppose the new centre, it is understood that planners only received a single formal objection to the application for the new building.

It has been designed by architect Daniel Libeskind who is renowned for his involvement in the plan for building on the site of New York's Ground Zero.

It is a stand alone structure but sits between two other sets of buildings that have also been retained and include parts of the former prison such as a watch tower, prison hospital, compound and H Block.

There are also a pair of World War II hangars that were part of the old Long Kesh RAF airfield.

Image caption An aerial shot of the H-blocks at the Maze prison

Announcing the decision, Northern Ireland Environment Minister Alex Attwood said: "There is learning to be taken from the conflict here. The centre can contribute to sharing this learning and perhaps to help inform the resolution of conflict in other places.

"I believe that good planning needs good design. That is certainly the case in the design of the centre created by Daniel Libeskind, a world leader in architecture and a friend of Northern Ireland."

Most of the cost of the peace-building and conflict resolution centre will be met by an £18m grant from the European Union.

The 350 acre site of the former prison is being redeveloped at a cost of £300m. A large part of it has been designated for the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) .

Since the jail closed in 2000, there has been a constant debate about how the site should be used.

It was earmarked for a new national sports stadium but the proposal was rejected after years of disagreement.

In April, DUP MLA Edwin Poots said his party had made a "corporate decision" to get behind the redevelopment of the former Maze Prison site.

Speaking on BBC NI's The View, the Lagan Valley MLA said the sooner the site was re-developed, the better. He said it would not become a republican shrine.

At the same time, a senior republican ex-prisoner said any new peace and reconciliation centre on the former prison site must reflect the stories of all involved. Seanna Walsh said this should include loyalists and the British Army.

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