Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 06 September 2007

Multi-Sports Stadium

6 September 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Paul Maskey
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:
Professor David Carson University of Ulster
Mr Michael Smyth
Mr Jack Layberry Department of Finance and Personnel
Mr David Thomson
Mr Edgar Jardine Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Mr Jack Palmer

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
I refer members to the reply from the Minister to the Committee’s letter of 24 July. In that letter, the Committee asked for copies of the correspondence submitted by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and the Community Relations Council (CRC) setting out their views on the three shortlisted sites as referred to in the assessment of shortlisted sites in the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) economic appraisal, final report of August 2005. The Minister has enclosed copies of letters from the GAA and the CRC in which they confirm that the references to their views in the PwC report are an accurate reflection of their position at that time. Do members wish to comment on that correspondence?

Mr McCausland:
On careful reading of the letter from CRC, it states:

“At this time the opportunity to invest in a shared, peaceful and equal future for all should be the prime consideration in arriving at all final decisions on public investment. The successful development of a shared sports stadium will be one of the most iconic symbols of a new culture of peace and co-operation. For this reason, the Community Relations Council (CRC) is strongly supportive of such a development.”

No location is mentioned. The letter continues:
“The responsibility and decision for the location is that of the Minister and DCAL. Above all, CRC believes that the success of the stadium depends on developing a venue that is safe, easily accessible to all and a valued part of the sporting cultures of all our traditions… We understand that the political parties through the Maze Panel have indicated that the Maze/ Long Kesh site best meets these criteria… On this basis, CRC is happy to support this iconic development.”

CRC is simply saying that if that is the decision of the politicians, it will acknowledge that that may well meet the shared future requirement. It is not saying that a site anywhere else does not meet those requirements. The implication of the PwC report was that it had said that. What the PwC report and CRC are saying are very different.

I am also concerned that this statement was produced on 23 August 2007. We asked for the original documentation from CRC. We did not ask for a note from August 2007, but what was produced in 2005 — the original paper, email, or whatever. We have not been given that, and that is a problem.

The GAA has also given us a letter, dated 22 August 2007. We have not been given the original documentation. I thought it was made abundantly clear to Tony Whitehead that that was what we wanted. I do not want post-dated correspondence. I want the real article, so can we have that for the next meeting?

The Chairperson:
Does any member have a view on that?

Are we content to request information, as detailed by Nelson, seeking the original correspondence on that matter?

Mr P Ramsey:
I have a further question on that. In the light of the statement that all political parties, through their leadership, have supported the Maze proposal, can we write to the party leaders asking them to qualify that? Did they support the project as agreed by the Maze Consultation Panel?

The Chairperson:
Does everyone agree with that proposal? We are agreed; we will do that.

Mr Brolly:
Just to be accurate, the Maze Consultation Panel did not say that it supported the project. It indicated its opinion that the Maze/Long Kesh site best meets the criteria.

Mr McCausland:
The precise interpretation — not CRC’s understanding, which may or may not be accurate — is that the political parties, through the Maze Consultation Panel, have indicated support. It is an assumption that the political parties, as parties, have endorsed the Maze. The Maze Consultation Panel certainly endorsed the Maze site, but whether all the political parties did is another matter.

Mr P Ramsey:
Those letters will tell a story.

The Chairperson:
We are agreed on a point of action.

We have not yet received the economic appraisal or the business case for the proposed stadium from the Department. The Minister indicated that they would be ready in late September and has agreed to speak to the Committee again when those documents have been received.

I have just had a late apology from David McNarry, our Deputy Chairperson. He apologises for his absence this morning, but his daughter gave birth to his granddaughter half an hour ago. Mother and baby are both well.

The Chairperson:
In the hope that he will read it, I propose that we send a letter of congratulations to David’s daughter. [Laughter.]

Mr P Ramsey:
Well done, David. I hope that he will be a loving, caring granddad in the next few months.

The Chairperson:
It is great news that mother and baby are well. If it is in order, and if we are not breaking any protocol, I would like to write to David’s daughter and congratulate her on the birth of her baby girl.

I thank David for his notice, in his absence.

During summer recess, members were asked to raise any issues that they wanted officials from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) to clarify. The questions that were raised were forwarded to the Clerk of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I agreed that it would be sensible to write to OFMDFM on those issues and to consider its response before deciding whether it was necessary to invite officials to give evidence to this Committee. Members may now decide whether that is necessary. The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, which is chaired by Danny Kennedy, and of which I am a member, is relaxed about inviting OFMDFM officials to give evidence on matters relating to their remit. We have received OFMDFM’s reply. Are members content with the information therein, or do other issues need further clarification, thereby requiring officials to give evidence to the Committee?

Mr McCausland:
We received papers that were presented to the then Committee of the Centre, and I was concerned that the timescales for planning applications stated therein were set for the entire site for early autumn. A decision has not yet been made on the site for the stadium, which is a major element in the plan; therefore, I wonder what planning applications could have been submitted. We were told that there was an urgency to move ahead with the planning process so that facilities would be available for certain dates in 2012. It would be useful for OFMDFM officials to address the Committee so that we can get clarification on the planning process.

The Chairperson:
Do you want the Committee to follow that action point?

Mr McCausland:
Yes.

The Chairperson:
I refer members to an unofficial transcript from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. It is a record of the 27 June meeting when the Committee took evidence from OFMDFM officials on the Maze/Long Kesh development. The Committee agreed that we could have the transcript for information, but not for publication.

Moving on, today’s evidence —

Mr McCarthy:
Chairperson, you are going rather fast; we have received a lot of papers. A few minutes ago, Mr Ramsey asked whether there has been any change to the stated position of the four political parties involved in agreeing the Maze/Long Kesh masterplan. The answer to that question is supplied in the paper from OFMDFM.

Mr P Ramsey:
Where is that response?

Mr McCarthy:
It is contained in the papers that we received from OFMDFM this morning.

The Chairperson:
Members did not have advance sight of those papers; they became available only yesterday evening.

Mr McCarthy:
The OFMDFM paper clearly states:

“We are not aware of any change to the stated position of the 4 political parties involved in agreeing the Maze/Long Kesh Masterplan.”

Is that the answer to Mr Ramsey’s question?

Mr P Ramsey:
That answer satisfies me, but it may not satisfy other members. That response satisfies me that the party leaders have supported the project.

Mr McCarthy:
The answer is clear: the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is unaware of any change to the stated position. Those papers are dated 5 September 2007.

The Chairperson:
Mr Ramsey’s request was to write to the party leaders individually; however, OFMDFM may be interpreting what it believes is the party leaders’ position.

Mr P Ramsey:
It may be sensible to obtain replies from the party leaders.

The Chairperson:
It is useful to draw that to our attention because it is definitely related to our discussion. Thank you.

The Committee will today hear from three groups: the authors of the University of Ulster report on potential sites for the stadium, which was prepared for Belfast City Council; officials from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) on their roles and responsibilities for the stadium development; and officials from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), who will provide an update on progress with the economic appraisal and business plan for the Maze/Long Kesh site.

Professor David Carson, Professor Jim Berry and Mr Michael Smyth from the University of Ulster will brief us on the findings of their report entitled ‘A Multi-purpose Sports Stadium: In-town versus out of town location’.

I will ask the Committee Clerk to make a statement about the suggested questions that have been forwarded by the Department. Some people might think that this is a bit unusual; others will not.

Mr McCausland:
I find that somewhat bizarre. This is meant to be a scrutiny Committee. If the Department that it is scrutinising is telling it which questions to ask, it suggests a flaw in the process. Is there a precedent for that? Does that sort of thing happen normally?

The Chairperson:
I asked the very same question. I was similarly surprised to receive suggested questions from the Department in respect of the University of Ulster presentation. I am told that there is a precedent and that it is not irregular. I invite the Committee Clerk to clarify the matter.

The Committee Clerk:
The report was commissioned by Belfast City Council, not by the Department. Therefore, I do not see a problem with the fact that the questions come from the Department, and nor should the Committee. Members may not wish to use them.

Mr McCausland:
I am concerned that the Committee is taking evidence from an outside body — the University of Ulster — to help it scrutinise what the Department plans to do. It seems inconsistent that the Committee should be fed questions by the Department that it is supposed to scrutinise. Whether or not the evidence concerns a piece of work carried out independently by academics is not the question. I simply find it bizarre that it is happening, and I hope that forwarding questions in this way does not become the Department’s practice.

Mr P Maskey:
I want to ask some of the questions outlined in this paper, and I have noted some of them. However, if the Department wants answers to those questions, it is entitled to ask them through the Committee. Members have the right to choose whether to ask those questions. It is up to the individual to decide.

The Chairperson:
You do not think that it is irregular. Nelson thinks that it is slightly irregular.

Mr P Ramsey:
I understand that the practice may not be consistent, but the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister decided on the Maze project, not DCAL. I do not see any conflict.

Mr McCarthy:
I am inclined to agree with Nelson McCausland that it is odd.

Mr McCausland:
It may not be a problem in this case, because the suggested questions may coincide with questions that members might want to ask anyway. However, I am concerned that a precedent will be set; there could be other cases in which that practice would cause real difficulties.

The Chairperson:
I have listened to members’ comments, and I will not take any action on the matter. I will note the Committee’s concern and reflect on what, if anything, to do about it. Nobody is suggesting that we write to the Department or seek a protocol on such matters.

On the questions and lines of enquiry that members wish to take, does the Committee want to leave that to individual discretion?

Mr McCarthy:
I would like to ask question 5, but to incorporate it into a question of my own.

The Chairperson:
All right, Kieran, you will go first. If other members wish to come in later, please indicate accordingly. Please make any questions substantive and succinct, and refrain from asking questions for the sake of it. I understand that two of the three expected witnesses are in attendance.

I would like to welcome Professor David Carson and Mr Michael Smyth from the University of Ulster. Professor Carson will now brief the Committee on the findings of the report — ‘A Multi-purpose Sports Stadium: In-town versus out of town location’.

Professor David Carson ( University of Ulster):
I will speak for a few minutes about the main points and findings of our report. We will then answer any questions that the Committee might have for us.

Although we completed the report in the last six to eight months, we have been engaged in the issues surrounding aspects of the viability and feasibility of multi-purpose stadiums around the world for some time. We engaged more than a dozen senior academics from the university who were interested in the process to act as monitors of the report — a possible first in the university sector. We are therefore very confident that our findings are robust and meet the academic criteria within which we must work.

The fundamental question about the multi-purpose stadium is: does Northern Ireland want or need one? Judging from our experience in researching for this report, if the community does not want or need a twenty-first century multi-purpose stadium, there is a real sense of disconnection. The answer can only be yes. If we are a modern society, moving forward with vibrancy and eager to become a society that values sport and recreation highly, we need a multi-purpose stadium of a twenty-first century calibre.

A multi-purpose stadium is, for us, one that incorporates sport with a wide variety of other activities that can be facilitated in that stadium. If the community decides that it needs and wants a twenty-first century multi-purpose stadium, where should that stadium be located? The findings of our report clearly state that the location of such a stadium should be in or very close to a city centre. Among the three of the report’s authors, we have 100 years of experience in conducting academic studies of this nature, and we have never found such a definite answer as the one that has emerged from this study. It is quite astounding that there is only one answer coming through to us.

Why should the multi-purpose stadium be in the city centre? The University of Ulster’s report, ‘A Multi-purpose sports stadium: In-town versus out of town location’, states that a city centre provides a holistic multiplicity of ancillary features involving commercial and recreational activities.

Specifically, I refer to the slide 7 and slide 8 of our presentation. Those slides represent the key findings from our study. Slide 7 shows the global model of best practice for a multi-purpose stadium and its optimum location. The centre of the diagram refers to the core location and the key criteria that must be engaged and involved in this process. That means different perspectives on regeneration, infrastructure, business and the economic matters. All those perspectives must be taken into account, and all will benefit to the maximum from the opportunity to locate the stadium in the city centre. Generating the best prospects for those perspectives engages all key stakeholders, which are represented in the outer ring of the diagram in slide 7. The key stakeholders are, not least, the Government, the media, politicians, promoters, property, sports bodies, tourism, transport, banks and, of course, business. All those sectors are engaged because a stadium is located in the city centre, where all the sectors are highly involved anyway.

The second point refers to slide 8, which shows the key findings of the business model from our study. Any stadium needs, as its best factor, a permanent tenant of some kind. It can have more than one tenant, but the stadium should be used on a regular basis. The business model is irrefutable. It is based on the examination of best-practice stadiums throughout the UK and in the international scene. The business model says, in every case, that in those kinds of stadiums, 30% of the events held will be sporting ones. A stadium built for sport alone will be unsustainable. It cannot be an economically viable or sustainable entity. All those stadiums recognise that. Approximately 30% of revenue will come from major concerts, 30% will come from the growing exhibitions and conferences sector, and the remaining 10% will come from community involvement from the immediate area, which the city centre will provide.

That is the report’s fundamental reasoning for a city centre location. If we as a community ignore those fundamentals, we are in danger of creating a folly for future generations. The fundamentals provide the basis for sustaining stadiums, but if they are ignored and a stadium is not located in a major city centre, our citizens will be burdened with maintaining and sustaining it.

All the best stadiums around the world clearly show that city centre stadiums are the ones that work. Stadiums that do not work are those that have been built for purpose — they are not sustainable or viable in the longer term. The University of Ulster research team has put the case for a city centre location based on our findings from the evidence, not our opinions. As academics, we live with whatever the answers are. If we are asked which city, we say Belfast, because it is the premier city of our community. It is the city that is recognised most easily throughout the world, and it is the city that should be leading such a concept.

Cardiff, a similar city to Belfast, has the Millennium Stadium. A fundamental statistic is that for every pound that Cardiff spends on hosting an event of whatever kind at the Cardiff Millennium Stadium, it generates £32. That is a 1:32 ratio. If £1,000 is spent, the Millennium Stadium generates £32,000; if £100,000 is spent, £3 million is generated. That is part of the irrefutable evidence for a city centre stadium.

People have argued that huge congestion would be caused if a stadium were to be built in the city centre. However, 30,000 people cannot be brought together anywhere without causing congestion. The fact is that a city can cope with such congestion because it has multiple points of access and modes of transport. It should also be remembered that most people walk the last few miles when they attend stadiums; that is part of the experience that people enjoy.

A few weeks ago in Belfast, on the same evening, 35,000 people attended a concert at Ormeau Park and another 12,000 attended a football match at Windsor Park. The city absorbed those numbers comfortably: that is what a city centre can do. A site that is isolated and that is outside a city would not be able to cope with crowds of that size.

I will pre-empt some of the Committee’s questions by asking the following question: where would we put such a stadium in Belfast? We have not answered that question in our report because that was not part of our brief. However, we will happily tell the Committee that the best site available in or around the city centre that meets the models that I have just outlined is Maysfield. Maysfield meets all the criteria on a top-ten checklist.

Maysfield is a 10-minute walk from all parts of the city. Try to envisage a stadium at Maysfield: if it were built in the right way, it would incorporate a central station beneath the construction; the stadium would sit out in an iconic way over the river, and a high-rise commercial development would allow something similar to the World Trade Center, which Belfast holds a licence for, to be built in the same place. That would make for an iconic statement and would provide for convenience to the multiplicity of amenities that visitors to stadiums need.

Given that we are realistic about the future, and that we need and want a stadium, the only reason for not having such a stadium in Maysfield, or in Belfast, would be because of the policy of ‘A Shared Future’. However, we do not have a problem with that concept. A few weeks ago, over the space of 10 days, we saw evidence of a shared future in sport. On one evening, the local community supported the name Northern Ireland, as in the Northern Ireland football team. A few days later the local community supported the Ireland rugby team. A few days after that, the community supported the Ulster rugby team. To us, that is an extreme example of a shared future — accommodating unity and diversity in a shared future. From a shared future point of view, nowhere in Northern Ireland is entirely neutral. However, to us, Maysfield offers the best option for a neutral venue.

It is not the cost of building such a stadium that needs to be taken into account — in fact, the cost to the public purse is, and should be, minimal or nothing, and is entirely achievable from a commercial prospect. The real cost lies is the sustainability and maintenance of the stadium for future generations, and those issues are what need to be considered. If the business model is incorrect, which would probably be as a result of an incorrect location being chosen, there would be a burden on the public purse for the foreseeable future and for future generations.

The Chairperson:
Is it fair to say that the report was commissioned and paid for by Belfast City Council?

Professor Carson:
Yes, absolutely. Most reports are commissioned and paid for. Some reports currently being compiled for other locations are paid for by Government. We did not carry out the research because of payment; we do not even know what was paid. We said from the outset that we were not going to act as consultants and that we were carrying out an academic piece of research. It is important to understand that, for academics, the bedrock of our credibility is the rigour, validity and objectivity of our research methodology.

It was on that basis that we agreed to carry out the report for Belfast City Council. Belfast City Council was simply the catalyst that allowed us to bring the report together in one document. As I said earlier, as independent academics, we had already been doing that work and looking at those ventures. We have been around the world to look at best practice — Melbourne, Chicago and elsewhere — and we are continuing to do that. Mr Smyth and I are scheduled to visit the best-practice example in Melbourne in November.

The fact that the report was funded by Belfast City Council had no bearing on the findings. We told the council that if the findings said something that did not relate favourably to Belfast, it would have to live with that, and, to be fair, the council accepted that.

Mr Michael Smyth ( University of Ulster):
Mr Chairperson, whatever we or the university were paid — and I do not think that it has been paid yet — it took a parliamentary question to find out that, as of April 2007, £7 ·3 million of public money has been spent on the Maze project. That information was not in the public domain. Professional fees alone amounted to £170,000. In that context, I am annoyed that people ask a question about whatever few thousand pounds the university was paid.

The Chairperson:
We will still ask the question, nonetheless.

Mr McCarthy:
The Government are seeking to establish a shared stadium for rugby, soccer and Gaelic games. Do you accept that the Government are right when they say that, in those circumstances, the acceptability of a location to all three sports has to be the number one criterion?

Sustainability was also mentioned. Do you agree that the participation of the biggest and best attended sports in Northern Ireland, which are Gaelic matches, would provide a much greater operational viability for a shared stadium? Are you aware that the GAA, for a host of reasons, does not wish to consider Belfast or any other in-town location? Are you essentially ignoring that key economic factor?

Mr Brolly:
I wish to add a supplementary question. Was the GAA consulted?

The Chairperson:
I see that Mr Bradley wishes to ask a question. Dominic, is your question related to this topic, or does it cover a different matter? If it concerns a different matter, I will leave it for now.

Mr D Bradley:
My question relates to the best practice business model.

The Chairperson:
OK. I will come back to you later.

Mr K Robinson:
I wish to go further into the detail of Mr McCarthy’s question. Did the GAA not qualify its position? It did not say specifically that it was against a Belfast location. Was the GAA not asked to clarify its position?

The Chairperson:
That is an interesting point. We need to pull the questions together. Mr McCarthy’s substantive question will stand; Mr Brolly has asked a supplementary question, as has Mr Robinson.

Professor Carson:
I will take Mr Brolly’s question first. We consulted with as many bodies as we possibly could. In fact, we consulted with a huge range of people. In some cases, we could not consult with the senior decision-makers, and the GAA was one of those cases. However, we do not exist in a vacuum, and we were able to talk to enough people in the GAA to know its views and its perspective. However, it is not for us to tell the Committee what the GAA’s long-term plans are. The Committee must ask the GAA.

In relation to Mr McCarthy’s question about a shared future, I demonstrated in my opening remarks about how the shared future, if looked at in its widest possible sense both in unity and diversity, could be achieved without having a shared stadium for all who are interested. However, I would link the comment about the number of spectators that attend GAA matches compared to other sporting events and put that into the context of what I said earlier: sporting events represent only 30% of the revenue of a stadium. In that context, the shared-future concept for any stadium, if located in a city centre, can be experienced through concerts, which do not have any separation of audience, and through exhibitions and conferences. A shared future could be achieved by using a modern stadium for purposes other than sport. In that context, we have no problem with the issue.

Finally, in reply to the point about the economics of the venture, one issue that came across very clearly to us when considering a sports stadium was that one should build it to fill it and use it frequently. If a stadium were to be used only for GAA, and built to be filled for GAA matches only, then it would not meet the frequency dimensions and, therefore, other events that could not generate similarly sized audiences would be deprived of experiencing the atmosphere that is a huge dimension of any sports stadium. A stadium should not be built for one constituency, but for optimum use by all constituencies.

Mr McCarthy:
You must bear in mind that the huge crowds that attend GAA matches generate a huge income.

Professor Carson:
The income from any sports event, should it be GAA, Irish football or Ulster rugby will represent only 30% of the revenue coming into a stadium; therefore a judgement cannot be based on that dimension alone.

Mr Smyth:
Apropos that, one of the case studies that we examined most closely was Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. As members may know, it received a substantial windfall from the rebuilding of Wembley and from the Rugby World Cup in 1998, and, in fact, it will host part of this year’s Rugby World Cup. The stadium is owned by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU), and that huge windfall enabled 85,000 or 90,000 people to be attracted to the stadium far more often than had originally been envisaged and enabled the WRU to reduce its consolidated debt from £60 million to £40 million. Therefore, rather than the banks foreclosing on the owner; because revenues are now at a more normal level, the stadium can just about service the debt.

My point is that if concentration is entirely on sport, the stadium will fail — there is no question about that; it is inescapable. It costs the people who run the Millennium Stadium £175,000 to lift the pitch and £175,000 to relay it. That is done twice a year to accommodate the conferences and exhibitions that they must host to make the stadium pay. I want to emphasise that. If they were to build it again, they would, perhaps, choose a pitch that could be wheeled in and out, as in some German and Japanese stadiums. For concerts and exhibitions, they would certainly install new lights that mimic ultraviolet light when a PVC coverings are used.

Everyone is wiser in hindsight, but the people in charge of the Millennium Stadium realised that to make their stadium pay they had to generate at least twice as much revenue from other activities as from sport — and will be the case wherever the stadium is located in Northern Ireland.

Professor Carson:
Building a roof to cover the stadium is one of the most important modern dimensions that has been overlooked in the construction of some newer stadiums, even in the past 10 years. It should be possible to close the roof 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year to maximise the revenue from activities other than sport, which generates only 30% at any time of year.

The Chairperson:
As everyone wants to ask supplementary questions, it will be difficult to manage. Therefore, I will stick to the original order: Pat is next, followed by Francie and then Nelson.

Mr P Ramsey:
I welcome the witnesses. None of us could put up an academic argument against the research on the business case. We all know that a multi-purpose arena must facilitate a wide range of activities and not solely sport.

I am not sure about some issues. Mr Chairperson, can members get the brief that was presented to Professor Carson and Mr Smyth by Belfast City Council? I am asking for that because the Committee has been considering the stadium for several months, and some of us have not been closely involved in the subject and are trying to be objective. I am trying to understand how a person that I would commission to do a piece of work could be independent and could look at the issue objectively regardless of the subject matter involved. If someone were paid £30,000 or £50,000, he would produce the output that the commissioning body would like to have.

Therefore, if there were a scientific basis to the research into the site of a new stadium then where did the evidence come from and who was consulted? Did the process include consultation with OFMDFM, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) or the political parties? Were the soccer and rugby fraternities consulted? Professor Carson, I see that you are nodding in response, yet you said no as regards the Gaelic fraternity, which I find amusing.

Professor Carson:
Excuse me. I did not say no to the Gaelic fraternity. I did not say no.

Mr P Ramsey:
I know what you said. You said that you had did not have any direct contact with the Gaelic body.

Professor Carson:
I said that we were unable to contact the key senior decision-makers in the GAA.

The Chairperson:
Carry on with your question, Pat. Will you then give a composite answer, Professor Carson?

Mr P Ramsey:
I heard someone say the word “ridiculous”, and it is ridiculous, given the effort made by the direct rule Government to reach a situation whereby young people could integrate effectively. We tried to achieve that primarily through sport. One cannot get away from the fact that people from certain communities follow certain sports. We are trying to integrate those communities.

The Chairperson:
We need your question, Pat.

Mr P Ramsey:
I want to see the evidence on who was consulted. I do not want to hear someone claim, on the basis of hearsay, that he knows what the Gaelic sporting community wants or what the soccer fraternity wants.

The Chairperson:
You want to know which sports governing bodies were consulted.

Mr P Ramsey:
I do not regard the science as complete when senior officials from sports’ governing bodies have not been consulted. The case presented to date has been based purely and firmly on business criteria and gives no recognition to the importance that the direct rule Government placed on social integration. The Committee needs to know who was consulted. We may not get that information today. Does anyone recollect whether any local authority besides Belfast City Council was consulted?

The Chairperson:
Because time is short, I will take two questions at a time. I want to give this issue a full airing. Francie, please ask your question now. After that, I will take two further questions.

Mr Brolly:
If the GAA is uncomfortable with the site that is chosen then its followers and supporters will be uncomfortable with it also. Therefore no matter what type of event or function is held there, it will not be supported by GAA people.

Professor Carson:
I am not sure what the question is. As a community, we must consider on a holistic basis what makes for a multi-purpose stadium. If one of the sports governing bodies has difficulty with the site — if the location is wrong for it — then the process just rolls around and a different site is chosen. I cannot emphasise enough that stadiums should not be built for sport alone.

Mr Brolly:
I shall repeat what I have said: I am not suggesting that the stadium will be built for sport alone, but if the major sports governing body is uncomfortable with the site, for any reason, it is likely that the followers of that body will be uncomfortable with it also, whatever concert or event is held there.

Professor Carson:
If the Committee wishes to pursue the feelings and views of the GAA and its supporters, it must ask them — it is not for us to comment on those issues. However, if the Committee were to ask the GAA about those things, I think it would get answers that are at odds with its perceptions.

I turn to the question asked earlier. Every one of the bodies Mr Ramsey mentioned has been consulted. Members must read the report, as in it they will see that each body that we consulted is listed. There is no hearsay in the report. I turn to Mr Ramsey’s comment that we are paid employees. He does not understand the bedrock of what we are as academics. We are not paid very much; we do this work because we are dedicated to what we do. We cannot exist in the international community without there being respect for the rigour, validity and objectivity of our research.

As to the brief that Mr Ramsey wants to see; that is not for us to provide. It is for the Committee to ask Belfast City Council for that, and I know they will be happy to provide it. However, we have included the terms of reference specified in that brief in our report.

Mr Smyth:
The terms of reference are at section 1.2 of the report. Moreover, appendix 1 lists all the people who were consulted. The Committee will find the names of the representatives of all the sports governing bodies there.

Mr P Ramsey:
All I have in my documentation is a summary, so I cannot make reference to that.

Mr Smyth:
I can give it to you.

Mr P Ramsey:
One imagines that such a report should be based on evidence. If Lisburn City Council decided to commission a similar piece of work and appointed academics to produce it, those academics would say exactly what you have said, and they would make a good job of it too.

Professor Carson:
Let me try to make clear —

Mr P Ramsey:
Let me follow through, because some fundamental questions need to be answered.

Professor Carson:
If I may, Chairperson —

Mr P Ramsey:
Mr Smyth, who did you speak to in the rugby fraternity?

Mr Smyth:
Michael Reid.

Mr P Ramsey:
Who did you speak to in the GAA?

Mr Smyth:
Danny Murphy

Mr P Ramsey:
You spoke to Danny Murphy —

Mr Smyth:
I spoke to Danny Murphy.

Mr P Ramsey:
— as regards the consultation?

Mr Smyth:
I spoke to him about —

Mr P Ramsey:
Let me be direct. Were formal representations made through Danny Murphy, president of the Ulster Council GAA, regarding the study?

Mr Smyth:
He is secretary of the Ulster Council GAA, and I spoke to him. He was reluctant to undertake the short questionnaire survey.

Mr P Ramsey:
So he was not consulted then. He did not participate in the consultation.

Mr Smyth:
All I can say is that I followed the same procedure with him as I did with the others, and he would not respond to the survey. I do not know what more I can do. I spoke to Peter Quinn, who is no longer directly involved, and I got a sense of the position. I was perfectly aware of the GAA’s position, and I understand that it is difficult, but there you are. We made efforts.

Professor Carson:
I do not know how we can get across the nature of academic study. The models that we have shown in our presentation today are based on the body of knowledge worldwide. We go through a process which involves looking at what already exists. As people elsewhere have considered the issues, we look at international best practice, studies, and the fundamental concept of the construct of a multi-purpose sports stadium. That is what we do first and foremost.

We then collect empirical evidence from key stakeholders in our own community — and they are listed in the report. We consider whether their views are the same as, or different from, the body of knowledge worldwide. We then report those commonalities and variances. The report is not solely founded on people’s opinions — it is based on the body of knowledge worldwide, which cannot be ignored. As academics, we would be remiss not to take account of information that is already out there.

Mr P Ramsey:
Is that the original report?

The Chairperson:
It is, and it was copied to all Committee members.

Mr Smyth:
Mr Ramsey, section 1.2 of the report spells out the terms of reference in great detail, and appendix 1 lists all of those who were interviewed.

Mr McCausland:
Are you aware of any academic research that direct rule Ministers may have commissioned around the time that they made the decision to locate a stadium at the Maze? Do you know whether they consulted any academic folk from local universities who have the sort of experience that you have?

Professor Carson:
No.

Mr P Maskey:
Belfast City Council has commissioned two reports from different groups. The total cost to date is £59,000, yet Belfast City Council ratepayers were promised that they would not have to pay a single penny for the stadium. That is a considerable sum of money.

Have you considered stadiums such as Goodison Park, the Everton Football Club ground, which is five miles outside Liverpool city centre? That seems to be a successful and viable option for the club.

I have read the report, as I am a member of Belfast City Council. Ormeau Park is mentioned a few times. You now say that the preferred option is the former Maysfield Leisure Centre site. The Ormeau Park site comprises 20 acres. As far as I am aware — and you can correct me if I am wrong, because you have perhaps carried out a bit more research on this matter than I have — the Maysfield site is somewhere between five and 10 acres. Is that large enough for a stadium? Again, there are a lot of congestion problems in that area.

Those are a few of the issues that must be addressed. Belfast City Council has almost ruled out Ormeau Park, and I cannot envisage any other site in Belfast that could cater for a stadium. Belfast City Council has been pathetic in this case and is seeking to commission another business plan for a stadium in Belfast, which will cost £140,000. That has not yet been agreed, but it is being considered — and yet we do not even have a site. Belfast City Council does not have a site for the stadium.

The Chairperson:
Do you have a question, Paul?

Mr P Maskey:
Would the five acres at Maysfield be a suitable location for the stadium? Does Goodison Park, which is five miles outside a city centre, provide an example of an ideal site for a football stadium?

Mr Smyth:
The point about Goodison Park is well taken. Perhaps we did not make ourselves clear. In his opening remarks, Professor Carson said that if an anchor tenant — such as a large sporting organisation — were linked to a stadium, that stadium would tend to be more successful than one that was not linked to an anchor tenant. Clearly, a successful premiership team — and Everton has been in the premier league for a long time — pays the bills, in every sense.

However, I shall contrast Goodison Park with Bolton Wanderers’s Reebok Stadium, which is three miles outside Bolton. The Reebok Stadium is one of those on which the Maze project was closely based. Last year, Bolton Wanderers had to raise its ticket prices mid-season. Despite that, the club only just managed to balance its books. If Bolton Wanderers were relegated, its stadium would struggle. The point about Everton is accepted. However, the same could be said about Arsenal and Manchester United, given that their stadiums are full every week or every two weeks.

We have seen outline proposals for a very imaginative scheme at the Maysfield site. The site is sufficient, but Central Station would need to be redeveloped in a similar way that Barcelona has its main railway station underneath a stadium. The main point about Maysfield is that it is a brownfield site that has the potential to become an iconic statement. Parliament Buildings, when first built, was a statement of confidence in the future, and I am always struck by that. The Victorian architecture in Belfast illustrates that the people who built the city were making a strong statement about their confidence in the future. If we are to rejoin the human race and rebuild our economy and our society — and particularly this city — in a confident way, we must begin to make those kinds of bold statements. The plans that I have seen for the stadium at Maysfield do that.

More importantly, commercial development on the site would pay for the building and running of the stadium. Therefore the public contribution would be the land.

Professor Carson:
The original idea of having 20 acres was largely about car parking. Car parking beside a stadium is neither needed nor wanted. If a stadium were sited in a city centre, car parking would be unnecessary.

Mr D Bradley:
Your glowing image of a shared future included an international rugby match in Belfast, an international soccer match in Belfast and an inter-provincial rugby match. To me, that is a rather narrow image of a shared future. However, that image was augmented later when you said that a shared future could be complemented by concertgoers. I am a bit anxious that the underlying theme is that the GAA, which we have talked about, has not been included for some reason. For example, a more expansive image of a shared future would have been for your initial glowing image to include a rugby match, a soccer match, and a GAA match all taking place within a short time of each other. However, given that the image did not include the GAA, and given that your broadening of the concept was to include concertgoers, I am anxious that the underlying theme is that the GAA was in some way being excluded. However, I am not sure whether that is as a result of the consultation process.

The Chairperson:
Please formulate a question, Dominic.

Mr D Bradley:
If your concept of a shared future is not broadened to include all aspects of our communities, does that not mean that it is flawed? I understand that you must look at international best models. However, you must also localise those models and ensure that they include all aspects of our communities.

Lord Browne:
First, I wish to congratulate the research team on the production of an excellent report. The professionalism and rigorous academic objectivity of the authors gives the report its validity. The report clearly makes the case for having a stadium in Belfast.

Mr D Bradley:
That is a Belfast view.

Lord Browne:
I was a little surprised at the suggestion that Maysfield should be the preferred site. Are there any other sites that could be considered but that have not been mentioned publicly? The Maysfield site is a little tight. What size of stadium would be suitable for that site? A 42,000-seater stadium and a 30,000-seater one have been suggested. Which one would be economical and would meet the required criteria?

Professor Carson:
I will take the last point first. The overriding maxim is that one builds it to fill it and use it frequently. In our view, a 42,000-capacity stadium would be too large for frequent use. That has nothing to do with the various sports that might use the facility. Having looked at the model and the various sites that have been mentioned around Belfast and elsewhere, it is our personal view that, of all of them, Maysfield meets all the criteria. It ticks all of the top 10 boxes; Maysfield is the one. It is compact — that is one of its features. However, if a stadium were to be built along the right lines and did incorporate the railway station and commercial investment, it would be the one that would work best.

There are other potential sites around Belfast. However, none of them have been considered, and that is because of the basis of the models that we would recommend. One study looked at various feasibilities, but its criteria were flawed, and its model was somewhat one-dimensional, based as it was on a 20-acre site. Adopting that size of area throws a lot of places out of kilter. Stadiums do not need as much space as that. It would be useful if we, as a community, were to go back to the sites that might potentially be available in Belfast, on the basis that they should only be in a city centre or near it, and examine them in an open and transparent way. We would all benefit from that. Based on everything we hear about the preferred size of a suitable stadium, it should have a capacity of 25,000 to 30,000.

Mr Bradley made a comment about a shared future. Our model is concerned with a shared future. The example that I gave just happened to consist of what was on in Belfast during one particular week. If there had been a GAA match that weekend we would have included it. I do not know how it can be done, but there must be consultation with the GAA nationally — that is, on an all-island basis — to get a perspective on the long-term future of its sports. Then we might see a perspective that is perhaps more appropriate for our community here. I implore the Committee to try to do that. It is not for us to tell the Committee what the GAA’s perspective is.

Mr K Robinson:
I have a couple of quick points. First, I got excited when Paul Maskey mentioned stadiums that were five miles out of the city centre. I thought that the Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey was coming back onto the radar again, but there you go. [ Laughter.] I have two quick questions. First, I would like a definition of the boundaries at the Maysfield site. I am trying to envisage it there with the railway station and the land that is available. Secondly, is there any potential commercial development that could go onto that site and provide the revenue stream that is needed? It seems that this scheme is coming down to revenue costs as opposed to capital costs.

The Chairperson:
We will just note that for now.

Mr Shannon:
I apologise for being late. I have spoken to my colleague Ken Robinson, and I have a couple of quick questions that I hope have not been asked, or have not been considered.

The Danny Blanchflower stadium at Sydenham seems to meet the roads and access criteria that Belfast City Council asked to be considered.

As Ken Robinson mentioned, the size of the stadium must also be considered, and I am keen to hear your views on the size of stadium that would be required. Was Windsor Park considered as a possible location? You have come up with Maysfield, which has not proven to be financially viable for Belfast City Council, so is it right to consider it? Finally, did the remit that Belfast City Council gave you include consideration of a single sports stadium rather than a national stadium?

The Chairperson:
Francie Brolly has indicated that he would like to make a comment. If anyone else would like to do the same, I ask that additional comments be made quickly.

Mr Brolly:
Professor Carson, are you saying that your research did not have the benefit of a submission from the Ulster Council of the GAA? Also, with regard to the size of the Maysfield area, it is generally held in GAA circles that a GAA pitch and its surroundings and facilities require around six acres. Maysfield would be a tight fit to suit the GAA.

Mr D Bradley:
Professor Carson, would you give the Committee some examples of what might make up the 10% community involvement that you cited in the final part of your best-practice business model?

Professor Carson:
To answer the latter question first; all successful stadium operators in city centres engage strongly with local communities in a wide variety of ways. For example, they offer a range of facilities in the stands, as well as those in the main arena, to local community clubs. It is important to stadium operators that sports clubs and communities can use the facilities for events and activities. They see themselves as part of the local communities and feel that their stadium is a place where those communities can come for daily, afternoon, evening, and weekend activities. Local communities can use stadiums as they would use a shopping mall. That is the community dimension.

Mr D Bradley:
Are you talking about room hire?

Professor Carson:
Stadium operators make facilities available for local clubs. The revenue streams come when they have an annual dinner, an AGM, or a formal event with a conference and catering dimension.

The Chairperson:
Mr Smyth, would you address Ken Robinson’s question? He started off this round of questioning.

Mr Smyth:
First, as to the boundaries of the Maysfield site, Belfast City Council holds approximately 4∙3 acres, and the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company holds just under four acres. When those areas are combined, the space is more than sufficient — certainly from the plans that we saw — to locate the stadium and also accommodate up to 1∙25 million square feet of commercial development in an imaginative way.

As for commercial development, one of the main criteria governing the decision for the location of government bureaucracy is that it must be adjacent to transport hubs. The Maysfield site provides an opportunity to put a lot it over a public transport station. The proximity of the site to hotels, and a conference and exhibition centre is also relevant.

A developer would be prepared to take the risk to build and operate a stadium, and it should be revenue neutral to the ratepayer and the taxpayer.

Professor Carson:
The main advantage of the Danny Blanchflower stadium and Inverary Park would be the transport infrastructure. However, the area would not facilitate walking to the stadium, which many people wish to do. Although it would work to a degree, it needs a holistic, infrastructural surround that would include multiple accommodation, catering and retailing facilities. It seems unnecessary to try to take that into account when there are other sites nearer to the city centre that already provide that in situ.

Mr Shannon:
Did the university ever consider Windsor Park as a possibility?

Professor Carson:
Much of what we discuss with the Committee today is outside what is contained in the report. Maysfield, for example, was not included in the terms of reference of the report. We offer those views with hindsight and with the benefit of our findings.

As for the question about Windsor Park, there is a model whereby money would be spent to refurbish existing facilities at Windsor Park, Casement Park and Ravenhill. It is for the Committee and others to make a decision on that. I return to my introductory comments: if the community wants to be part of a twenty-first century society that is sophisticated enough to value recreation and sport as leading platforms of its community, an iconic stadium that offers and provides for that, and which is recognised throughout the world, is needed. If one wants to see how such a stadium can work for a community, take the Committee to Melbourne, for example, where there is a multiplicity of such stadiums, which form a necklace around the city, and all are within 10 minutes’ walking distance of its centre.

Mr Shannon:
There are only 1·75 million people in Northern Ireland. We can draw comparisons with Melbourne, Bolton and other such places, but the population per square mile in those places is probably double what it is here. If I may, Mr Chairman, I want to ask another question in relation to that last point.

The Chairperson:
You are doing relatively well, Mr Shannon.

Mr Shannon:
Thank you very much. Was it ever the university’s remit to consider a single-sport stadium or was it to consider a national, multi-sports stadium?

Professor Carson:
Again, I emphasise that the remit was to consider a multi-purpose stadium. Therefore, our consideration went beyond a single-sport dimension.

The Chairperson:
I ask the witnesses to be brief in their conclusion.

Mr Smyth:
I would like to answer Mr Brolly’s question.

The Chairperson:
Please keep your comments as brief as possible. Today’s later witnesses have been patient. Of course, it is partly my fault that we have over-run.

Mr Smyth:
The remit was:
“to identify the optimum location of a multi-purpose sports stadium for Northern Ireland and to determine the optimum capacity. Specifically the research addressed the following key issues: the optimum regeneration impact; the maximum economic impact; the optimum infrastructure impact; the maximum business impact and the optimum capacity and use”.

We did our best to meet those criteria.

The Chairperson:
Do you want to answer Mr Brolly’s question?

Mr Smyth:
Yes, certainly. He asked whether we received a written submission from the GAA. The answer is no, we did not. Nor did we receive one from Ulster Rugby or the Irish Football Association, with whom we conducted structured interviews. However, we were not able to do that with the GAA.

Mr P Ramsey:
Does the university suggest that the Committee now rubbish the work that has been done by OFMDFM, DCAL and senior party representatives on the stadium, because the Maze and the locations that they have proposed are not suitable? Should we revert to the university’s proposal?

I am not challenging the witnesses’ integrity, but the Committee is a poor relation and cannot afford to fly around the country and the world to look at stadiums. That is not a criticism; just a point. I represent the city of Derry. I could commission a study to be carried out by the University of Ulster to tell me, and give me good reasons for doing so, that the stadium should be in Derry.

The Chairperson:
I will take a final comment from Professor Carson.

Professor Carson:
We will provide the Committee with our criteria. The Committee can bring those criteria to whomever it wants and ask them to do the study. We guarantee that they will come to the same conclusions that we have. In response to the member’s question about whether we are rubbishing the work that has been done by DCAL, I ask where on earth he got that perspective. We have not once criticised other people’s work.

n conclusion, we urge the Committee to examine all the research that is available and to start the process with openness and transparency. In the past, processes have not been open and transparent, and that must be examined. The first question to be asked must be whether we want

and need a multi-sports stadium, and the only answer to that is yes. The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure must approach this issue with openness and transparency, and — as a community — we will make the right decision.

The Chairperson:
I thank Professor Carson and Mr Smyth for attending this morning’s Committee meeting. The Committee witnessed their academic rigour and tested their mental agility, so good luck to them both. I also thank the Department of Finance and Personnel, and Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure officials for their patience, as the meeting is running over time — I see the odd watch being shown to me.

Mr Shannon:
Perhaps it was a fist.

The Chairperson:
Was it a watch or a fist, Jim?

Mr Shannon:
It was a fist.

The Chairperson:
Jim reckons that it was a fist.

I welcome Mr David Thomson and Mr Jack Layberry from the Department of Finance and Personnel, and we are grateful to them for tolerating the overrun of time. We appreciate that they are busy people. They will brief the Committee on their Department’s roles and responsibilities in relation to the multi-sports stadium proposals.

Mr David Thomson (Department of Finance and Personnel):
Thank you for the invitation; I am pleased to be here. It is not usual for DFP officials to appear before the Committee of another Department. I am the Treasury Officer of Accounts in Northern Ireland, which means that I am responsible for giving advice on accounting, accountability, audit matters and documents on matters such as Government accounting. I am broadly responsible for value for money across the public sector. One of my duties is to attend every session of the Public Accounts Committee, along with the Comptroller and Auditor General, so I usually sit in another part of this Chamber. However, it is nice to be here in a different capacity.

Jack Layberry is a senior civil servant who works for me and heads up a team in DFP which monitors expenditure in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment; the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development; and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, along with the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, which, I am sure you will agree, is an extensive portfolio. He has also had considerable engagement with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and the Strategic Investment Board over the proposed stadium and the Maze development.

The Finance Minister, Peter Robinson, has written to the Committee with a short paper outlining the role of DFP. The Department has two roles in this context: first, public expenditure planning and ensuring the availability of money in the public expenditure process; and there is also the important role that lies behind my TOA role — the approval role.

With regard to public expenditure planning, the Finance Minister is preparing a draft Budget. He will present it to the Executive, and they will discuss and debate it before it is brought before the Assembly. Following that, it will go out for consultation. I am not sure when that will happen, because the final Northern Ireland allocations will not come through until the Treasury announces the comprehensive spending review. The latest indications are that that will be in early October. That will finalise the Northern Ireland allocations for the next three years and enable the Minister to put the final Budget together.

There is a considerable amount of work going on at present. For instance, the second version of the draft investment strategy is currently being worked on. I cannot tell you much more about that process, because it is work in hand. Peter Robinson has yet to bring a draft Budget before the Executive, and the Executive have not agreed on their Programme for Government priorities. That is part of the Budget planning process.

DFP’s second role is that of giving formal approval. No expenditure can be incurred in any Department without DFP approval. Now it is not practical for DFP to approve every item of expenditure, so that is handled through a series of delegations. Every Department has a delegated limit, and any expenditure above that must be brought to DFP.

In addition, there are some categories of spend that DFP does not delegate. Obviously, some things in statute require DFP to act, but novel or contentious expenditure, which is set out in Government Accounting Northern Ireland (GANI), is not delegated. Anything that is above a delegation, or is novel or contentious, has to come to DFP for approval, and it does not take a lot of brains to work out that if a proposal for a stadium comes, it will probably be way above a delegated limit, and novel or contentious. Therefore, the stadium will have to come to DFP for formal approval.

When it comes, if it does come — and it is up to DCAL to decide whether it is happy with the proposal before it comes anywhere near DFP — DFP will be looking for, although it cannot second guess the Department completely, things like value for money and green book appraisals. DFP will be looking at regularity: have all the proper processes and approvals been sought, etc? It will be looking for propriety: is it a proper use of public money? Quite often, something can be value for money but not a proper use of public money. DFP will be looking for affordability, because often a project can be value for money and sensible but not affordable. DFP will be looking to see whether there is Budget cover. Just because there is an allowance in the Budget does not mean that DFP will approve the project. However, the reverse is also true: just because DFP has approved something does not necessarily mean that it is affordable. It is not unusual for DFP to say that it is content to proceed on the condition that the Department finds the resources. If the Department does not have the resources, the project will not proceed.

In summary, for a major project such as the stadium to proceed, the relevant Department must be satisfied that the project is right, and come to DFP if it has to. DFP will be looking to see if it is affordable, has Budget cover and meets all the criteria that normally apply.

I will ask Jack to briefly comment on that, because he has been more involved in the project and in liaising with DCAL about what the DFP has done.

Mr Jack Layberry (Head of Supply 1):
Members have a short paper from DFP on its involvement so far, so I will be very brief.

I have three key points, on which the Committee might find it helpful to focus. First is the difference between the formal engagement by DFP, and the informal engagement. DFP informally engages with Departments to help them shape proposals, add value to them and give advice on public expenditure aspects and the process. That has been ongoing for the past couple of years, but it is purely informal and entirely without compromise to DFP’s formal challenge role, which will come at the business case stage, when DFP will stand back and formally challenge the proposal.

I have set out DFP’s involvement in that short paper on the six documents that the Committee has seen so far, and which Edwin Poots talked you through on 24 July. DFP has worked hard for around two years with DCAL, because the stadium project is a big proposal and involves a long process, which is fairly frustrating. The documentation reflects that. DFP has had little involvement over the last six months while waiting for the business case to come along.

My second point concerns that business case, which is now at a key stage. Everything that has happened up until now has been primarily process driven and has led up to this stage. The outline business case stage, which will be for the overall Maze development, with an underlying business case for the stadium, the infrastructure and the international centre for conflict transformation, is the crucial stage. The decisions will be taken on the basis of that business case.

My third point is that the decision is not for DFP. The decision is for the accounting officers of the two responsible Departments, which are OFMDFM and DCAL. They will make that decision on the basis that they are fully satisfied that the project is achievable and represents value for money. They will make that decision, hopefully taking into account advice from all sources, including the Committee. DFP will never see the proposal unless OFMDFM and DCAL concur on that, because the proposal will not be sent to DFP.

The Chairperson:
Thank you.

The Chairperson:
I do not anticipate this being a lengthy item, as only Mr Shannon and Mr Ramsey have indicated that they wish to speak.

Mr Shannon:
The costs for the Maze/Long Kesh site have been put at £60 million, £356 million and £547 ·5 million. Presumably, those costs cover the cheap option and the grandiose option. Perhaps this is not within your remit, but where is the value for money? I am sure that members could think of 101 other places where that money could be better spent for the benefit of a greater number of people.

Secondly, if the public clearly disapprove, will you go ahead with the project? Perhaps, as departmental officials, that will not be your decision to make. Finally, has the Department considered an alternative? It should consider giving each of the three sports a financial package and allowing them to promote and upgrade their own stadiums.

Mr Thomson:
In some ways, I would duck your first question and say that a lot depends on the business case. As Mr Layberry said, initially it is not for us to decide whether to proceed with the project: it is up to the Department to decide whether the project represents good use of — and value for —money. The departmental accounting officer must be personally convinced that it is a good use of and proper value for money before he brings details of the project to DFP. If a Department claims that a project represents value for money, we will challenge and examine that. We may or may not agree. However, we have not yet received any information to state whether the project is value for money.

Mr Shannon also asked about alternative uses. You are probably aware of the green book, which covers option appraisal analysis, and under which alternatives must be considered. An alternative that must be included is the option to do nothing. If suggestions come to DFP for approval, we must consider whether other alternatives and ways to deal with the issue have been examined.

Mr Shannon:
An alternative would be to award £5 million to each of the three sports.

Mr Thomson:
That alternative has not been proposed to DFP, but if it is, we must examine the policy constraints. We do not always second-guess policy; if Ministers decide on certain a policy, it is our job to say that there are various ways to achieve it. I do not want to appear to be ducking the question, but it is not for me to decide.

The Chairperson:
Does that mean that you exercise the challenge function to departmental proposals?

Mr Thomson:
We must exercise that function to ensure that the Department has considered other options.

Mr Layberry said that we have had an informal engagement on costs. We wanted to ensure that all the costs were on the table, particularly with regard to the Maze site; in the early days, people said that it was only a £70 million to £80 million project. I doubt that it will cost only £70 million or £80 million, given that a great deal of infrastructure needs to be built. However, it may cost that amount. Depending on the options, the public purse may not necessarily have to pick up those costs. During the previous presentation, a downtown Belfast site was mentioned, and the witness said that a developer might pick up those costs. The project may not result in any public expenditure, but, as a DFP official, I will want to ensure that we do not end up with a developer building a stadium for us and the taxpayer or ratepayer having a revenue cost-tail going on for ever and a day that we will have to pick up. That is the sort of challenge role that we will play.

The Chairperson:
Mr Ramsey and Mr Maskey will package two questions together, and I will then invite officials from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to come to the table.

Mr P Ramsey:
You are welcome to the meeting. I agree with Mr Layberry that we must ensure that the options are being thoroughly examined. The project is obviously contentious, and the previous witnesses intimated to us that they are independent and objective. They said that they can make a better financial business case for siting a multi-sports stadium in Belfast.

Should we start the process again? You seem to be telling the Committee that there was nothing open or transparent about the process and that perhaps it should start again. Given the controversy about it, the Minister of Finance and Personnel may believe that it should start again.

What are the risk factors? I take the point that revenue will always be a big stumbling block. However, even if you get as far as a securing business case with which you can be a bit more comfortable, what are the main risks?

Mr P Maskey:
Is it possible that there is — or could be — provision for the stadium in the investment strategy?

Mr Thomson:
The Executive would have to decide on the investment strategy. All I can tell the Committee is that the bids that are on the table far exceed the money that is available. Therefore the Executive must decide what their priorities are. There is nothing to stop the Executive placing a marker bid of a certain amount for any project; doing so would not necessarily commit them to undertake it. However, I am not sure that I can tell the Committee much more than that. I know that there are marker bids for a stadium, but whether they find their way into the Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (ISNI) will be up to the Executive.

On the question of options and whether we should start again, I hope that any business case that comes to the Department will examine all the options. I am not in a position to say whether we should start again. In some ways, DFP is reactive. I will keep my head down and not get involved until a Department comes to me with a proposal. I am not driving this; it is up to DFP to approve projects that are brought to it.

As for the risk factors, I do not have the business case, so that is a difficult question for me to address. My gut feeling — which is a personal one — is that there is a risk that the capital costs will be underestimated up front. That is why the Department was adamant that the full infrastructure costs be examined. There is a track record — I sat before a Public Accounts Committee hearing a few weeks ago — of people making initial estimates that the projects ended up costing two or three times more.

Demand flows must be critical. I remember lengthy debates in the Department about whether it should fund the Odyssey project. Who, in those days, could have foreseen that it would have an ice hockey team and stage concerts that would generate such demand? There were huge debates about whether the demand forecasts were realistic. Demand will drive the ongoing running costs.

Mr Layberry:
I will add two points. First, Mr Thomson is right about the options analysis. I do not think that we need to start again; all the viable options should be included in the business case. I assure the Committee that if those options are not included, the business case will be challenged. All the viable options will include either doing nothing or upgrading stadiums. Anything that is viable should be included, and if it is not, it will be challenged.

Secondly, another risk concerns commitment from the sporting bodies. I understand that the staging agreements will not be available until the final business-case stage. It is crucial that the sporting bodies give us clear, legally binding commitments that they will use the stadium. Without those commitments, we will have a problem.

The Chairperson:
Thank you, David and Jack, for coming today, and particularly for allowing the Committee to run late with the previous item.

I shall now ask Mr Edgar Jardine and Mr Jack Palmer from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to brief the Committee on what progress has been made since the Minister last spoke to the Committee about the multi-sports stadium on 24 July 2007.

Mr McCausland:
Is there a paper on this agenda item, Chairman?

The Chairperson:
If it is not in your pack, it must have been tabled separately.

The Chairperson:
Thank you for coming, Mr Jardine and Mr Palmer.

Mr Edgar Jardine (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):
Thank you. I appreciate the consideration that the Committee is giving to this important issue, which is probably the most important matter on the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure’s (DCAL) agenda. I wish to provide an update on the Minister’s comprehensive statement of 24 July — when he outlined the history of the process and the next steps — using three main headings: stadium design; the business plan, and the outline business case.

A stadium design group, which has involved the three sports, has been working with our specialist architects, HOK, throughout 2007. The internal design of the stadium has been more or less agreed with the three sports. There will be an upper and lower tier, which will permit different volumes of attendance depending on the sports being played. Sporting events expecting large attendances will be able to use both tiers, while those attracting smaller attendances will be able to use the lower tier.

DCAL is also engaging with the three private-sector developers on stadium design because that will be a key factor in the overall master plan. As a result, the Department is taking steps to amend the external design of the stadium. Design is very important for several reasons: first, it will impact on cost, which will be an important factor when we reach the outline business case (OBC) stage. Secondly, we will need to have a detailed design ready for the full planning application for the stadium. Thirdly, it will have implications for the revenue stream and the sort of revenue costs that will need to be recovered. HOK is working on that and will have it completed in the next couple of months.

The Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) has outlined the sophisticated and challenging assessments it will make, and DCAL has therefore put a lot of resources into business planning and into developing the OBC. A draft business plan is currently with the three sports. That plan is predicated on the stadium not having a revenue consequence for the Department. The Committee knows that the Department’s resources are limited and we must ensure that this is completely ground down.

The business plan has been based on very conservative assumptions about attendance and pricing. A recent report by Deloitte shows that new stadiums tend to attract a 50% increase in attendance. We are not factoring in anything like that magnitude because we want the stadium to work. We are also being conservative in our estimation of the number of events that will take place to ensure that, in the worse-case scenario, there will be a lot of upside. Mr Layberry and Mr Thomson talked about the importance of demand: we want to ensure that our business case is based on very frugal demand. Our business plan will ensure that the more upside we can achieve in attendances, the more lucrative the stadium will be as regards rental. There will be a higher percentage rental to secure the basic rent, but there will be a taper involved. We expect to do a lot of work with the rugby, Gaelic and soccer governing bodies over the next six weeks on that aspect.

Once we sign up on the rentals, on a slighter longer timescale, there will be a staging agreement with the sporting bodies, which will be about the management, sequencing and scheduling of games, and so on.

The other piece of work which DFP colleagues mentioned was the OBC. DCAL has been talking with DFP economists who will don their challenge hats and go through every detail. The Department is using PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to help with that work. We have a draft OBC, which we will be tightening over the next two or three weeks. That work will fit into the overall OBC for the Maze, which DFP colleagues have mentioned. Essentially, it will comprise the documentation on which DFP will take decisions and give advice to its Minister. DCAL expects that the OBC will be signed off by the end of September, and, because of the challenge that DFP rightly exerts, we have spent a lot of time in getting it right.

The last time that the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure appeared before the Committee he indicated that he was prepared to consider other proposals and that he had set some criteria for those proposals. To date, no other proposals have been received that are consistent with those criteria.

Mr Shannon:
The initial costs of a multi-sports stadium seem horrendous. It was stated that the costs will be controlled by DFP, and I understand that that will be the case. However, for a project to succeed, the costs being put forward must be achievable. Earlier, I mentioned figures of £60 million, £365 million and £547 million. I wonder how honest those figures are.

It was said that DCAL has considered other options. I use the term that was used earlier by the representative from DFP — “to challenge”. Is DCAL challenging the Minister over the viability of the Long Kesh/Maze proposal? Is it honestly considering other options? That does not mean sitting back and waiting for someone to throw a proposal on the table. DCAL must have some idea of what the alternatives might be. Does the Department have a fallback position if the project does not go ahead and if so, what is it? I am asking the same question that I asked DFP officials earlier: would the fallback position be to allocate more funding to the three sports?

Mr Jardine:
It is common currency that expenditure on stadiums here has been low. Northern Ireland’s stadiums did not benefit from the kind of funding that came into a lot of the GB stadiums through the Taylor report. Although the figures that Mr Shannon mentioned for the costs of a stadium relate to a number of different options, they are big figures. The question is: do we want a modern stadium for our sports that we can be proud of and proud to bring people to, or do we not? We have heard Nigel Worthington’s recent comments about Windsor Park. The amount of money being spent on sport is miniscule when compared to health, education and roads capital programmes.

Mr Shannon:
I could spend £365 million on the Ards Peninsula and Strangford, West Tyrone, North Belfast and everywhere else in Northern Ireland.

Mr Jardine:
As the Chairperson knows, West Tyrone is awash with money [Laughter.] The £365 million is not just about building a stadium; it is about opening up a 360-acre site.

In answer to the point about honest consideration of other options, any predilections that DCAL would be dishonest would be put aside by DFP, whose job it is to keep us all honest. DCAL is seriously engaged in considering other options, which include the enhancement of current stadiums. Consideration is also being given to a theoretical proposition of, for example, the costs and benefits of building a stadium on the north foreshore. DCAL’s approach differs from that of our colleagues from the University of Ulster in that where they are talking about the location of a stadium in theory; we have to deal with practicalities.

The Department has to consider a stadium that will work and that will be sustainable in the longer term. That is why in our assessment the business plan feeds into the OBC, and it is very important that that is the case. Therefore, we are considering all the options.

At the moment the Department has no fallback option. All of our resources are being used to complete the OBC, which does explore other options. However, the business plan that we working on with the sporting bodies is based exclusively on the Maze site. The reason is that at the moment no one is engaging with the sporting bodies on other propositions, despite all the talk about alternatives.

Mr Shannon:
Regarding that last point, should one of the alternative options be a get-out clause? Should that not be the Department’s fallback position? These proposals are meeting with lots of opposition, from the financial perspective, from the general public and from elected representatives. We are very clear on the issues. Perhaps there needs to be an option from which the three sports can benefit based on a smaller figure.

Mr McCausland:
The Committee has been advised that a planning application will not be submitted until December. Will that application be for the stadium or for the entire site? Will applications for both be submitted at the same time?

Mr Jardine:
The answer is slightly more sophisticated in that we will be making a full planning application in respect of the infrastructure and stadium and an outline planning application for other elements of the site that are less well developed.

Mr McCausland:
OK. That is fair enough.

When the decision was taken under direct rule to locate a stadium at the Maze site, did the Department seek any academic research into the sort of issues that we have been considering this morning?

Mr Jardine:
The Department did not specifically seek academic research because it was not an academic exercise that we were interested in. We were looking at a practical exercise to deliver a stadium that would meet the Government’s policy of ‘A Shared Future’. We had good consultancy support, including support from probably one of the top consultancy firms in recreational leisure — PwC. It has given us an excellent service. Therefore, there was no academic research as such requested, but there was targeted consultancy.

Mr McCausland:
Nevertheless, there is value in academic research being carried out. No matter what area of Government is involved, it is common practice to seek academic research. What is the bill so far from PwC?

Mr Jardine:
Can I come back to the Committee on that?

Mr McCausland:
Absolutely, yes. It is not the sort of figure that someone carries around in their head.

The Chairperson:
You welcome rigour, validity and objectivity.

Mr McCausland:
Absolutely, Chairman.

Mr Jardine:
There is no question that the figure is significant, and I do not apologise for that because the investment will be significant. It will be an investment for 40, 60, 80 years, therefore, it is important that we get it right. Anyone building this stadium would be required to spend the same amount of money on consultancy.

Mr McCausland:
What we value, Chairman, is transparency.

The Chairperson:
And openness, of course.

Mr P Maskey:
The north foreshore site has been mentioned, but Belfast City Council already has plans for that site, which have been agreed by the council. In fact, a bid has been submitted for lottery funding. Therefore, I am not sure why the site is even being considered.

The Minister previously said that people should put up or shut up. Until now, nobody has been able to put up. That includes Belfast City Council, which has been one of the most argumentative groups on the issue and yet has not been able to come up with any option whatsoever. Therefore, does the Department think that the Long Kesh regeneration site is the best option for the stadium?

Mr Jardine:
The Department did feel that it was necessary to include a Belfast option in the OBC, and it seemed to us, from the site-selection exercise, that the north foreshore was the next best choice. While there would have been problems involved with the site, it would have been a possibility, and that is why it was costed.

I note that there were three replies in response to the expressions of interest from the council, and all related to Ormeau Park. If I recollect correctly, when the University of Ulster published its report, it also supported Ormeau Park as a venue. However, from what I have heard today, the representatives seem to have moved a little east — or south — to Maysfield. The Minister has met the remaining developers who support the Ormeau site, but I understand that no decision has yet been taken on their expressions of interest. However, we believe that the outcome of the original site-selection exercise is still valid.

Mr P Ramsey:
The University of Ulster gave a strong presentation on its research paper to the Committee today. Taking other members’ comments into account, and having regard to the academic and professional consultancy research that has been carried out, Jim Shannon has made a very valid point. This process has been going on for a terribly long time, and the major sporting bodies involved have committed themselves to the project. Therefore, there is an anticipation that the result will be a new stadium that is fit for purpose for those sporting bodies and their supporters. I hope that some funding will be available to those bodies if we reach the end of the process and nothing has happened; I hope that the sporting bodies will not be let down.

The University of Ulster representatives are telling me, as an Assembly Member, that DCAL has got it wrong. They are telling me that this project is a waste of money. They are telling me — in some detail — that the economic impact of the retail potential will be limited. They are also saying that there are other issues to consider. I am a layperson who is trying to be objective, so what can you tell me about the results of the University of Ulster’s research, which has concluded that this project should be scrapped and that we should start afresh?

The Chairperson:
I would like to ask Mr McCarthy to make a point at this stage.

Mr P Ramsey:
I have one further point to make, and I do not want to miss my opportunity. Under the lead facilities programmes that have been announced recently, can we have an assurance that an appropriate geographical balance and inclusiveness will be given to all sports across Northern Ireland?

The Chairperson:
Is that question directly related to the multi-sports stadium?

Mr P Ramsey:
No, but I wanted to ask it anyway. [Laughter.]

Mr McCarthy:
Mr Jardine said that a big decision must be made. However, this issue has been hanging around for a long time, a lot of money has been spent, and we seem to be going round in circles. I am extremely disappointed to hear Mr Jardine say that to date no other proposals have been received.

Where are the people who were shouting for an alternative? Why have they not proposed any alternatives? When will we say that enough is enough and decide to go ahead with what we have?

Mr Jardine:
For a variety of reasons, we are near that point. First, as my DFP colleagues said, the comprehensive spending review will be completed over the autumn, and either the resources will be available through that or they will not, and either the business case will stack up or it will not.

Mr Ramsey asked about the commitment of the sporting bodies. They are committed in principle, and the Department has been doing a great deal of detailed work with them. However, the business plan for the stadium must work for the sporting bodies as well, and we are talking to them about that at the moment.

I come back to Mr Ramsey’s point about the University of Ulster research. If its report is taken on a theoretical basis, then it contains some very interesting material. However, from my point of view, it has several weaknesses. First, it assumes that we will have a viable stadium. However, to some extent, if a stadium is not viable, it does not matter whether it is sited in Belfast or Belleek, it will not work.

Our work shows that the inclusion of GAA and soccer is essential. Rugby is the weakest of the three sports, as it attracts the smallest attendances. In all honesty, rugby has less upside potential. Soccer has a huge upside potential, and those involved in it believe that a viable stadium is critical to their business case as their sport moves forward. If the stadium cannot be made operationally viable, all the other arguments are spurious.

If the policy ‘A Shared Future’ is to be valued — and the Government say that they value it — then cross-community engagement is required. Jim Shannon talked about community interests and so forth. Independent research undertaken on behalf of the Irish Football Association suggests that a stadium at the Maze/Long Kesh site would broaden soccer’s fan base in geographical and religious terms and increase engagement by families. Strategically, that is how those at the head of that sport want to move forward.

Earlier this morning, I heard that someone should sit down with the GAA to find out its strategic plan. We have been doing that for five years.

The Chairperson:
I thank Edgar Jardine and Jack Palmer — and Pat — for coming this morning.

Mr P Ramsey:
I still need an answer to my question.

Mr Jack Palmer (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):
I will answer your question, Pat, although it is not specifically related to the subject. As you know, Sport Northern Ireland is running the programme. It is an open competition and applications will be judged against preset criteria. The primary aim of the programme will be to address the need for elite facilities in Northern Ireland.

Mr P Ramsey:
My question was whether DCAL can assure the Committee that there will be appropriate geographical balance in the development of the infrastructure leading up to the Olympics?

Mr Palmer:
The projects that win, under strict competition rules, will secure funding on a priority basis.

The Chairperson:
We have to park that subject for now, Pat, because it was not a tabled item. However, you gained some insight from Mr Palmer’s answer, and I have no doubt that you will follow it up. Thank you for that, Pat.

I thank Edgar Jardine and Jack Palmer for coming this morning and presenting a progress report to the Committee.

Find Your MLA

tools-map.png

Locate your local MLA

Find MLA

News and Media Centre

tools-media.png

Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

tools-social.png

Keep up to date with what’s happening at the Assem

Find out more

Contact information

tools-newsletter.png

Contact us for further information about our work.

Contact us