white soccer ball on green grass field

Neighbour disputes can be emotive.  When that neighbour wants to build a stadium behind your home, emotions will run high. 

The High Court in Belfast recently considered what may be the final chapter in the saga of Belfast’s Casement Park.

Background

In 2009, plans for a national stadium project on the Maze site in Co. Antrim were axed

In 2014, Ulster GAA secured planning permission to redevelop Casement Park in Belfast. Meanwhile,  soccer and rugby pressed ahead with separate projects. The Kingspan Stadium (Ravenhill) opened in 2014, and the National Football Stadium (Windsor Park) was completed in 2016.  

The planning permission for the Casement Park project was subsequently quashed. A further application was ultimately granted by the relevant Minister in 2021, subject to various conditions and a Planning Agreement.  

The site is owned by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and operated by Ulster GAA. In July 2021, a Planning Agreement was entered into by DfI, Ulster GAA, the Central Council of the GAA, and the Department for Communities (DfC).

The applicant, a group of local residents impacted by the plans, was again granted leave to apply for judicial review. This time, it was argued that the Minister acted ultra vires in not consulting her ministerial colleagues in the Executive and alleging that there had been a series of errors in the planning process. 

Judgment

It is not seriously in dispute in this case that the question of the grant of planning permission for this development was cross-cutting, significant and/or controversial. 

per Humphreys J at [27]

Executive consideration

The Minister should have brought the matter to the Executive for consideration, but not doing so was not a breach of the Ministerial Code. Planning decisions are now exempt by statute. 

This was not a ‘solo run’ by the Minister in that she kept her Executive colleagues informed as to her intentions, which received widespread support, and expressly alluded to regionally significant planning applications such as Casement Park. None of the Ministers concerned raised any issue about this particular application or the proposed approach to it.

per Humphreys J at [51]

Planning Agreement

The statutory duty to consult contained in section 76 is limited to consultation with the appropriate council. It cannot conceivably be the case that a duty to consult more widely could be implied into the legislation, given its express terms. 

The applicant’s grounds to impugn the planning permission were found “…to be without merit”.

Conclusion

The residents’ application for Judicial Review was dismissed.

A GAA spokesman said:

Our full efforts will now be focused on continuing to work with the Department for the Communities and its Regional Stadia Team, finalising all remaining aspects of the business case, implementing our extensive and far-reaching community engagement and benefits programme as we move towards the construction phase of the project.

Postscript

The court was critical of expert evidence “…which bore no relevance to the questions which the court had to determine.”

The nature of this evidence is such that little weight could be attached to it. Solicitors and counsel owe obligations to the court to ensure the proper administration of justice and affidavits of this nature should never have been filed.

per Humphreys J at [110]

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