Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 26 February 2009

Ministerial Briefing on Multi-Sports Stadium

26 February 2009

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

Witnesses:
Mr Gregory Campbell The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Mr Nick Harkness (Sport Northern Ireland)
Mr Edgar Jardine (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure)

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

I welcome the Minister and his colleagues and ask him to make an opening statement.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr Campbell):

Thank you, Chairman. I am glad to meet the Committee today — there was a slight difficulty with last week. Members may find it helpful if I give a fairly quick background and résumé of the origins of the concept and then bring them up to date quickly thereafter.

It has been widely recognised for a considerable time that there is a serious deficit in stadium provision in Northern Ireland. The previous direct rule Administration acknowledged that deficit, and as a consequence commissioned a business plan to assess the potential for an operationally viable multi-sports stadium.

It was also recognised that, at a wider level, the standard of regional and local sporting facilities throughout Northern Ireland was, and remains, generally poor. That is in stark contrast to existing and expected investment in sports infrastructure in other parts of the United Kingdom and in the Irish Republic.

Furthermore, it was considered that provision for top-flight sports events in Northern Ireland was significantly below that provided by other regions of the UK, and that this had an adverse effect on Northern Ireland’s image and profile.

Responsibility for taking forward the stadium as part of the proposed Maze development fell to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), which established a framework for assessing the proposal. The assessment framework had four component parts: the first was the need for broad political consensus; the second was the agreement and participation of the three main sports; the third was a robust economic appraisal and viable business plan; and the fourth was an affordability requirement. Direct rule Ministers expressed their optimism that all those conditions would be satisfied.

Due to the pressing need to tackle infrastructure deficit in sport, together with the prospect of attracting Olympic football games in 2012, direct rule Ministers also directed that the design for the stadium should be taken forward in parallel with the economic appraisal and business planning.

I made it clear, on taking up office as Minister for sport, that I wanted to remove the uncertainty that has surrounded the stadium issue for so long. The issue has therefore been a key priority for me. I took an early opportunity to review the documentation associated with it — chiefly the economic appraisal that identified the Maze as the preferred option — and the DCAL accounting officer’s assessment of it.

I also reviewed the draft Executive paper issued by the then Minister of Finance and Personnel on 16 May 2008, which set out his analysis and assessment of the proposed development of the Maze site.

In addition, I met the governing bodies of football, rugby and Gaelic to discuss their needs, their position on the Maze proposal and possible alternatives. I also visited the Maze for a briefing on the site. I concluded that the framework within which the assessment of a multi-sports stadium at the Maze was to be taken forward was sound.

Crucially, however, three of the four components in the framework for assessing the proposal to develop a multi-sports stadium had not been met, and, in my opinion, were unlikely to be met. Although the three governing bodies agreed to participate fully in a multi-sports stadium at the Maze, which previous direct rule Ministers had laid down as one of the tests of a proposition, there is a lack of sufficient political consensus on the proposal.

Regarding the economic and affordability tests, DCAL’s accounting officer examined the outline business case prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, together with the work undertaken by Deloitte, who were the consultants for the overall Maze regeneration project, and he concluded that value for money had not been fully demonstrated. He could not, therefore, commend the project on value-for-money grounds, given that the net loss to the economy of the Maze regeneration option was likely to be between £156 million and £193 million.

Furthermore, in his draft Executive paper of 16 May 2008, the then Minister of Finance and Personnel set out the Department of Finance and Personnel’s strategic analysis of the value-for-money and affordability implications of the outline business case and associated information submitted by DCAL and the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) in respect of the regeneration of the Maze site. The Minister concluded that the proposal did not represent value for money, and in respect of affordability, the potential funding implications and associated opportunity costs attached to the proposal were significant in the context of the Northern Ireland block.

I should also mention that the DCAL accounting officer acknowledged that Ministers have wider discretion to take into consideration non-monetary benefits; for example, the Shared Future aspirations. However, I have examined that point and am not persuaded that those benefits compensate for the net loss to the economy.

Accordingly, I concluded that the proposal to build a multi-sports stadium at the Maze should not proceed; which brings me to the alternatives.

In advising the Executive of my conclusion in the paper of 27 January 2009, which was, regrettably, leaked to the press, I said that I would hold further discussions with the governing bodies of the sports involved to explore alternatives. In examining alternatives, I aim to find a cost-effective solution, not just to meet the needs of sport at representative and inter-county level but also to address the deficits in facilities at the wider sub-regional level. It is also important that we provide the right circumstances in which to improve the financial stability of the governing bodies in the long term and to deal effectively with health and safety requirements, in which I know the Committee has a deep interest.

Those objectives can be best achieved by assisting the three sports to develop solutions to their stadia needs that are cost-effective and comprehensive. As I said in the Assembly last week, I have already held meetings with the governing bodies of the three sports; I have asked them to review their options on stadia provision and to report to me. Any new proposals will, obviously, be subject to an economic appraisal according to green-book standards to ensure value for money, operational viability and sustainability.

I do not necessarily expect Government to bear the full cost of any funding package. There are already good models of local authority and private-sector involvement in stadia development, and I will look for opportunities to develop such partnerships. The governing bodies and clubs also have a contribution to make, as they and their sports will be the ultimate beneficiaries of the investment. Partnership is the key to this programme.

Alongside that work, I am considering the possibility of supporting a limited remedial programme of work at Windsor Park so that international football can continue to be played there until a longer-term solution is found. Any support will be subject to an approved business case and to satisfactory assurances from the Irish Football Association (IFA) and Linfield Football Club on future arrangements for maintaining the venue. I also plan to defer major stadium expenditure, and will instead introduce other high-priority sports-capital programmes, using at least part of the funding that was allocated to the stadium over the next two years, to support sport more generally — including rugby, GAA and football.

Some programmes could be accelerated. For example, I mentioned that the Committee has a strong interest in safe sports grounds. That is one area at which funding could be targeted, as are the elite facilities programme and the Places for Sports: Surfaces programme. In addition to those programmes, I wish to consider how stadia development at sub-regional level could be improved, and, in the wider context, how best to implement the sports strategy.

My decision provides much-needed and overdue clarity on the multi-sports stadium issue; it provides the sports involved the opportunity to move forward and to plan for the future. Having taken the decision, I now want to ensure that momentum is maintained and that Northern Ireland has appropriate and viable stadium provision. I trust and hope that the Committee will support me in that aim.

The Chairperson:

Thank you, Minister. Is there a timetable or deadline for the three governing bodies of the sports involved to report to you on their strategic requirements?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

As I said, I met representatives of the three sports involved. I did not want to be time-specific down to weeks or days, but I made it clear that I did not want the issue to rumble on for months. I said that I expect them to report to me within weeks. To be fair to the governing bodies, they readily responded to that timescale. I expect to get a response from each of the bodies within weeks.

The Chairperson:

Thank you.

Mr McNarry:

Good morning, Minister; you are very welcome. In your opening remarks, you said that three of the four components of the Department’s assessment framework for the proposed Maze development were unlikely to be met. The first reason that you gave was the lack of political consensus, and I accept that.

In your recent discussions with the sports bodies, did you give them a remit to consider options and, in your words, “report” to you? Did you ask the sports bodies to gauge political consensus on any such proposals?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

No; because I did not consider it appropriate to expect the governing bodies to assess what may or may not gain political consensus; perhaps we could establish that around this table and in the Chamber. I told the sporting bodies that I do not wish to go back to square one, and they agreed that it is not a case of turning the clock back and coming back with a significant number of options. They recognise, and I accept, the strictly limited number of options for each of the sporting bodies concerned. I want them to consider those options and come back to me, and they agreed to do so.

Mr McNarry:

Political consensus, as you identified, was important. It was clear to the Committee, particularly when we discussed the Maze stadium with the three major sporting bodies, that the GAA in particular stated its reluctance — some might say its refusal — to consider any option other than a joint multi-stadium complex at the Maze. Have you any indication that each sporting body will come back to you with individual proposals or will there be collective or joint proposals from two or all three bodies? Is the remit that far-reaching?

The GAA seemed to reject all other options, although there may be more now. Political consensus is important, and I am unaware of the GAA’s asking the Committee for any assistance or for its consensus. Should it ask, would such assistance be given?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

It is a matter for each of the three governing bodies. The GAA may decide that it wishes to bring back proposals with which it, and it alone, is content. Alternatively, it may decide that it wishes to discuss a joint bid with another governing body, or the three bodies may get together. It is entirely a matter for the governing bodies. I do not know what the outcome will be, but they are clear that they are free either to submit individual proposals for their own sporting code or to discuss with others the possibility of a stadium shared by two or three sports.

Mr McNarry:

Have you returned all the money that was set aside in the Budget for the Maze stadium? I know that that is a paper exercise, but has it all been sent back?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I will ask Edgar to provide the technical answer to that.

Mr Edgar Jardine (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

It is not a very technical answer. The £10 million for this year has been returned, and the further £69 million or £70 million over the next two years is still under consideration and has not been given back.

Mr McNarry:

Forgive me, Edgar, but how can that money be under consideration? The money is part of the Budget, and the Department will not be using it for the purpose for which it was identified. Will the Department return it or not?

Mr Jardine:

Under the investment strategy, projects can be accelerated or deferred. The Minister, towards the end of his remarks, said that even were a decision to be made today on the longer-term solution, the Department would be unable to spend that money over the next two years. However, the Department also recognises that there will be significant expenditure on a stadium further down the line. The plan, therefore, is to consider bringing forward some work that has been done to 2011 or 2012 and beyond to displace that.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

The short answer is that we do not have to surrender the money.

Mr McNarry:

That is what I was coming to. The Assembly democratically approved that money for a specific use. If you wish to spend the money in some other way, will you come back to the Assembly to ask that that money be put to a different use? Or do you have the power to decide unilaterally that as that money is not being spent on the stadium, you will use it for something else?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

Perhaps Edgar can tell us the original wording as to the specific nature of the allocation; that is important.

Mr Jardine:

The 2008-2011 Budget provided for stadium development, and the intention is still to use that money for stadium development. However, we cannot use it for stadium development within the next two years; therefore, as the Minister said, we anticipate introducing projects to absorb at least some of that money. We believe that it is in the Minister’s gift to do so through his management of the capital programme.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

The money was allocated for stadium development, and it is my intention that it will be spent on stadium development.

Mr McNarry:

I am impressed with your words. However, when I was considering the Budget and the sums of money that Mr Jardine talked about — and I am sure that my colleagues feel the same — it was very clear in my mind that that money was for a multi-sports stadium at the Maze. Perhaps it is a discussion for another day; however, I certainly did not think that we were giving you power to take £69 million and come up with something other than a Maze stadium to spend it on. In effect, that is what you are doing.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

The terminology used was stadium development, and that is my intention.

The Chairperson:

As all 11 members have indicated that they have questions for the Minister, I will move on and come back to you later, David.

Mr McCartney:

Thank you very much for the presentation. In your opening remarks you said that in January you brought a paper to the Executive advising them of your decision. Have you discussed that paper with your Executive colleagues, and, if so, what is the present status of your decision? Do you need approval from the Executive, or from any Department, to proceed with your decision?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

The paper to my Executive colleagues is dated 27 January. Unfortunately, as I said in my opening remarks, within 24 hours of its being circulated to Executive colleagues, it appeared in the media; that was deeply regrettable. Several MLAs, and others, commented on the paper, and I found myself restricted, as my Executive colleagues had not had the opportunity to read it — although it appears that at least one of them did, given that it was leaked to the media. I felt very restricted therefore in the comments that I could make. That paper was circulated to the Executive almost a month ago. It has not been discussed at an Executive meeting; however, I have tabled the paper, and I await a response from my colleagues on its content.

Mr McCartney:

Are cross-departmental issues involved? Does your decision require approval from another Department before it can proceed?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

The First Minister referred to it during Question Time, as have I on previous occasions. The essence of that paper was — among other things — that I would not proceed with the Maze project. Most people understand that a Minister does not need Executive approval not to proceed with a project.

Mr McCartney:

I understand that; however, do you need approval from any other Department to proceed with the second phase of spending the money elsewhere, or can you do that on your own initiative?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I do not need approval for stadia development, because I already have approval for it.

Mr McCartney:

If the three codes feel that the best place to proceed with a stadium development is on the Maze site, would you consider that?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

Let us look at the context. I asked them to meet me to remove the uncertainty regarding the Maze. I said to them — and I am using shorthand for the purposes of clarity — that the Maze project is off the table. As they know the strategic objectives for each of their sports, I asked them to look at a very small number of options that they would consider in the absence of the Maze project and to come back to me. Having said to them that the Maze site is not on the table, I think it extremely unlikely that they will say that their preferred option is the Maze. I suspect that they will come back with preferred options now that the Maze is not on the table; what those options are, I will know within a few weeks.

Mr McCartney:

I agree that we need clarity, but I am still not clear. When the three codes come back in a month’s time with their preferred options, what can you do, given that it has not been discussed by the Executive?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I suppose that it will depend on the options and their viability. At that stage, the Department would need to commission a business case, or cases, depending on the options. Is that correct, Edgar?

Mr Jardine:

Yes.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

We will see where that leads us. Their preferred options, now that we are in a new ballgame — excuse the pun — will be judged against the same criteria that I used previously.

Mr McCartney:

To be absolutely clear: are the decisions on the matter solely yours? You do not have to seek approval from any other Department.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

The decision is mine within the confines of stadium development, for which I have already got approval.

Mr McCartney:

The £69 million is yours alone to spend?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

Within the concept of stadium development; yes.

Mr McCarthy:

You will be aware that your decision has caused great disappointment in some quarters and relief in others. I am among the disappointed, although I have listened to your reasons.

Did any of the following contribute to your decision: pressure from Northern Ireland football fans; the fear of a shared future; party instructions; the shadow of the hunger strike and the proposal for a conflict-transformation centre at the Maze; or did your party reject the Maze simply because Sinn Féin wanted it? Did any of those factors contribute to your decision?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I try to keep answers concise, but I am very tempted simply to say; “no, none of them did”. As for party instructions, I hope that anybody who knows me will know that if I were instructed by anyone — no matter who or how senior — to do something to which I fundamentally objected, I would not do it. Whether that would mean a resignation, replacement or whatever the consequences would be, I would not do it.

There was no pressure from other sporting bodies. I had a view, which I considered and assessed. I visited the site; I took account of the accounting officer’s decisions — I considered all the issues that I mentioned in my opening remarks, and I concluded that, regardless of the politics, the uncertainty of the issue had dogged sport in Northern Ireland for years.

The member, and others, will be aware that during my first two or three sessions of questions for oral answer, Members pleaded with me to take a decision. We have now taken a decision. We are now in a new ball game and we are moving on. I was under no pressure to take the decision that I did, and I would dearly like to meet the person who suggested that I was. Had I come under pressure, I would have responded robustly.

Mr McCarthy:

Your predecessor appeared before the Committee and expressed support for a shared future through the multi-sports stadium. Do you not regard it as a lost opportunity to bring the community together through sport and through a shared future? That has gone now, because of your decision.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I do not believe that it has. I always found it a bit difficult to understand how an example of a shared future could be envisaged by different sports being played in the same stadium on different occasions — whether weeks or months apart. We are more likely to see the development of a shared future when each of the sporting bodies and sporting disciplines can open up in a way that shows that there are no barriers to participation in sport and that they are open and welcome to all comers. That concept, if it were applied on a practical basis by each of the sporting disciplines, would do more to present a shared future through sport than the original concept of the Maze ever could.

Mr Shannon:

It is nice to have the Minister here. Clearly, a stadium at the Maze is dead in the water, and we have to move forward. That being the case, my questions are about what we will do in the future. As the Minister said, we want to try to build better sporting facilities and engage with the three major sports. The Minister said that he engaged with the three sporting bodies and asked them to come back to him with their ideas and strategies. Some Committee members feel that some sports need more investment than others. What will your feeling be on that when the three major sporting organisations report back?

The £69 million has been mentioned a number of times. Will that money go towards major projects? It is important that it does not all go to the big clubs in the Province, whatever the three sports may be, but that it filters down to the junior clubs and gives them the opportunity of upgrading their stadiums for the promotion of their sports. We must ensure that it is not just those who follow the big clubs who benefit, but that benefits can go down to first division, intermediate level and so on. I am keen to hear your ideas on whether the £69 million can be used for that, how the money will be spent, and whether some emphasis will be placed on the sport, or sports, that need more investment than others.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I appreciate Mr Shannon’s point about the clubs and the variety of clubs. I have just been reminded that SNI is involved with 85 governing bodies of different sports. That gives an indication of the spread of representation.

At an overall departmental level, I want to keep the matter straightforward. There was uncertainty, which has been removed. There are two issues that we need to consider as to how to get the money deployed to sports at grass-roots level. First, if the uncertainty had continued, or even had I taken the opposite decision, none of that money could have gone to where Mr Shannon and others think that it might go to. Secondly, even had I said yes to the Maze stadium, not one brick would have been laid there for 18 months, and the money could not have been used for anything else. I am content to take all the criticism for the decision. The criticism from some quarters means nothing whatsoever to me.

Mr Shannon:

We are not criticising you, Minister.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I understand that, Mr Shannon. It is a win-win situation, because now that we have removed the uncertainty, we can start to utilise the money for stadium development. Some of the types of clubs that Mr Shannon mentioned can benefit as a result of that decision, but they would not have benefited had I not taken that decision.

The Chairperson:

Is it not a matter for the IFA? Jim was talking about soccer, which is fine. Will the IFA and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) determine their strategic priorities?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

Are you talking about their strategic priorities for the development of sports grounds?

The Chairperson:

Yes.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

Nick will answer that question. I think that we are moving onto the subject of sports-strategy arenas.

Mr Nick Harkness (Sport Northern Ireland):

The Sports Council has made provision for £3·5 million to be invested out of the £8 million that was originally earmarked for the soccer strategy. During the incoming year, we hope to expend that on more than 22 soccer clubs. Those clubs were prioritised with the assistance of the IFA in line with its facilities strategy.

With regard to the member’s question, 14 of those clubs are outside the premiership. We hope to invest £1·74 million in the development of the grounds at those 14 clubs. In addition, we have had other capital programmes in the past, such as the Building Sport programme and the Places for Sport: Surfaces programme. Those junior soccer clubs, and clubs from other sports, have had an opportunity to avail themselves of that capital funding. Indeed, only recently, Moyola Football Club took receipt of more than £1 million. Therefore, those investments are ongoing, and more are planned over the next 12 months.

Mr Shannon:

There are many soccer fans, and I asked that question because some members believe that soccer has been bereft of investment for many years. When the strategies are brought forward from all three organised sporting organisations, consideration must be given to the clear need for improved health and safety at grounds and for their upgrading. Furthermore, the money should be spread in such a fashion that it will do more good and reach all levels.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I assure Mr Shannon that I will try to ensure that, as far as possible, the needs of Gaelic football, rugby and football/soccer can be met. I must issue the customary health warning, because I think that it is unrealistic to expect that, in the next two or three years, I will get anything like the necessary resources to meet all the demands for all the clubs in all the sporting disciplines. However, I want to try to do whatever I can to utilise the money that is available — in the most advantageous way possible and in an equitable fashion — to ensure that spectators and participants alike going to sport in any of those disciplines will have better facilities than they currently have. The decision that I took last month will bring us closer to that day than it would have had I not taken that decision.

Mr Shannon:

With regard to the £69 million that was allocated for the multi-sports stadium at the Maze, the issue has now been laid to rest — RIP — and we can now move forward to spreading that £69 million to everyone. That money will not benefit a small portion of the community only; it will reach out to everyone. That is good news and will help the three sports to develop, benefit and grow.

Mr Jardine:

It is not a question of spreading the £69 million to everyone. Projects will be prioritised, and there will be significant regional expenditure on stadia within the next four or five years. The money that we are now spending on stadium safety and so on will not be spent on stadium safety in the future, because that money will have to be recouped in order to make up for the stadium expenditure that is not taking place now.

Mr K Robinson:

I have been waiting to address that point. All my other questions have been asked. The three sports must make a decision, and I thank the Minister for clearing the clutter off the table. We can now examine the individual sports’ needs.

Committee members know of many sports grounds that must address serious safety considerations. Moreover, some clubs are in a position — and, in some instances, have been for many years — in which they must decide whether to remain in their existing locations or move to new locations. Is there an opportunity to now commence that process? There is no sense in fixing stadia that will be outdated within five years in order to meet mandatory health and safety requirements. We must look beyond that and determine whether a club’s location will allow the sport to develop. We have seen, particularly in GAA, the ongoing community development. The other codes want to emulate that achievement. Is there an opportunity to grasp that particular nettle and go with it?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

If the governing body of any code wants to take the opportunity to talk to another code’s governing body or individual clubs in their own code in order to develop their strategic needs, they now have an opportunity to do so. However, it is a matter for them, and I made it clear to the three governing bodies that I am not telling them what to do. I am saying that the issue has dogged the sporting atmosphere for years, and I am willing to consider proposals to replace it. It is up to them whether to use that opportunity to talk to individual clubs. That matter is clear, and if they submit a proposal, I will consider it along with the others.

Mr K Robinson:

The signal should go out from today’s meeting that this is an opportunity for clubs or codes to make a move.

Mr P Ramsey:

I welcome the Minister and the officials. I want to return to some of Kieran’s points. The Minister outlined the four key areas on which the issue of the stadium was based: political consensus; agreement and participation of the three main sports; economic viability; and affordability. I imagine that those criteria can be applied to any capital project. Capital projects always present a risk, and sometimes one has to take that risk.

I imagine that the “political consensus” criterion was somewhat tarnished during the approach to the conflict resolution museum. Much of the discussion in the Committee and in the Chamber has focused on that issue, and some people have described the proposed museum as a shrine to terrorism. There must have been a level of political consensus when all party leaders signed up to the arrangement for a major sports stadium that would leave a legacy for the children of the future and will promote the concept of a shared future.

Although we do not have the final figure yet, almost £4 million has been invested by OFMDFM, your own Department, the sporting bodies and the Strategic Investment Board. There must have been a level of determination to complete the project, and, being cynical about it, one might say that the previous Minister had it in mind to favour this project. The political consensus lay not in the DUP, but within the wider context to which you referred. One suspects that Edwin was replaced because of his continued support for the stadium project.

You said that you wanted to remove the uncertainty from the situation; however, I am not sure that you have done so. You continually say that there could be a chance for other stadium development, if the governing bodies want it. Your deliberations show that the governing bodies all want to share a stadium. You say it is on the agenda, but it must be at another location.

The preamble to today’s debate has been about the dispersal of the money that was allocated to the stadium. We have heard from your officials and yourself that £11 million will be required for additional elite facilities and that there is a requirement of £25 million for safety of sports grounds. A bid was made for that, and there are bids from all over the place for that money.

Has the stadium, as Jim said, been put to death — put to rest? Has the whole concept — not just the Maze stadium — been removed from the agenda? I am not sure that it has been. Can you give us a clear answer to that?

The governing bodies entered into the process honourably, and the Committee listened to them intently. They were clear and concise: they wanted to be a part of a new stadium project that would manage their future needs. To be cynical again, one imagines that two of the governing bodies might complain that the Minister is now minded — before meeting any of them — to invest in Windsor Park, but that he is not minded to invest in their sports. Why have you requested that a business case be brought forward by Sport Northern Ireland rather than by Linfield Football Club or the IFA? It appears that you are not being fair to other sports.

Edgar’s comments were about regional expenditure. If there is to be a level playing field, indications should be made to those other sports that DCAL will also invest in their infrastructure. Windsor Park is in need of major modernisation, as we saw when we visited. However, that is also true of the other stadiums that we visited, including Casement Park and Ravenhill. Why has Windsor been selected at the expense of everywhere else?

The Chairperson:

Pat, that was a lengthy question. I ask the Minister to respond.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

It was a lengthy series of questions, but I will try to answer each of them.

Mr Ramsey implied — although he did not say explicitly, he came close to it — that my appointment was in part politically motivated, because my predecessor had one opinion and I had another. A previous question, asked by another member, implied that I had taken the decision only because political pressure was applied. It seems to me that those are conflicting views.

Neither perception is accurate. Mr Ramsey mentioned the conflict-transformation element of the project. I hope, now that the uncertainty has been removed, that the overall regeneration of that important site will continue on a non-contentious basis and with total support from the wider political community. That was what lay behind the sporting element and is what should be behind the rest of it. Everyone should support it, not just for the greater good of Lisburn or Lagan Valley, but for all Northern Ireland. However, that is outwith my responsibility; it is a matter for the First and deputy First Minister.

Mr Ramsey referred to political consensus. Whatever suggestion is made that any degree of political consensus existed six, seven or eight years ago, it is absolutely apparent to everyone that there has been no political consensus on that issue for the past two or three years. That is beyond doubt, and it is beyond the competence of any single party or group of parties. I have had correspondence from a range of political considerations congratulating me on my decision on the Maze, but I will not go down that route. Whatever there was in the past, there is certainly no political consensus now. I hope that that addresses that point.

In answer to the point about uncertainty, I do not know how I could be more explicit. There is not going to be a multi-sports stadium at the Maze. That is clear and unambiguous, and we move on from that. We now have to decide the next moves. The governing bodies of the three sports are now considering that. They will come back to me within a few short weeks, and I want to hit the ground running with whatever proposal or proposals are made. I will commission a business case and try to ensure that the funding is made available for those proposals so that they can proceed as quickly as possible.

The exact principle that applies to the short-term funding of Windsor Park also applies to Casement Park or any other sporting venue. If there were a venue at which prestigious sporting events were staged and that was in jeopardy — for example, international football at Windsor Park — I would want to step in to see whether, with all the criteria being met and the business cases being established, short-term funding could be provided to ensure that that prestigious event was not jeopardised because of a lack of investment, whether it were at Windsor Park or Casement Park.

That principle would apply anywhere, but it currently applies only to Windsor Park, which is why the Department looked at Windsor Park. If there were other venues with an immediate problem of a prestigious series of events being jeopardised because of health and safety implications, I would also consider those.

Mr P Ramsey:

You said that you ruled out a stadium at the Maze. Are you now ruling out an all-purpose stadium? You have not been clear on that.

The Minister:

I do not know how much more explicit I can be.

The Chairperson:

We will move on to Raymond’s question.

Mr McCartney:

If a private developer wanted to build a multi-sports stadium at the Maze site, could you block that?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

If there were a private-sector investment at the Maze that was built on a range of options that are not under DCAL’s consideration, I would not even seek to block it.

Mr McCartney:

If the three codes were to support such a development, could the £69 million be used to fund it?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I thought that I had made myself clear, but I will repeat it, and the Hansard report will show it to be the eighth, ninth or tenth time. The Maze is now off the table. The governing bodies of the three sports are considering a shortlist of options, and they will come back to me on those within a few weeks. I will consider those options with the business cases and the preparation that is required. Hopefully, a short time thereafter, we will know what the preferred choices are and how viable they are. We will try to proceed as quickly as possible thereafter, whatever the choices might be.

Lord Browne:

I thank the Minister form taking time out from his busy schedule to attend today. At last week’s Committee meeting, we discussed the poor state of many of the stadiums throughout the Province. I highlighted some of the major stadiums that we visited, including Casement Park and Windsor Park. I am pleased that a strategy seems to be place that will release some of the money that was devoted to the Maze to upgrade many of the stadiums across the Province in all sports.

The Minister said that he had discussions with the three governing bodies. Will he detail the commitment that each of the IFA, the Ulster branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union and the GAA had given to the number of games that would have been played at the Maze stadium?

Has the Minister considered the feasibility study that Belfast City Council produced, which identified several sites in Belfast? As I represent East Belfast, I am interested in the site at the Junior Stadium. Has the Minister had any discussions about that, and would he be prepared to discuss that site with private developers?

Our discussion about safety at various stadia has centred on those that cater for soccer, rugby and Gaelic games. Is there a safety strategy for other sporting venues or events, such as the North West 200 and short-circuit racing or rallying at Kirkistown. The safety of spectators and competitors at those venues is vital.

If there is was major incident at a sports venue, and I hope that there never is, who would ultimately be responsible for the health and safety of the general public?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I will ask one of my officials to address the last couple of Lord Browne’s points.

Although there can be no direct comparison between development and safety at sports grounds, there is an overlap — some of the grounds for which there are safety concerns could also be considered for development. As I said, had I not taken the decision that I did on the multi-sports stadium, there would be no money for stadia development or for an examination of safety considerations at those stadia. There was no money in the departmental budget for that, but there is now because of my decision. That is why I am grateful that the Committee has decided to consider grounds with safety problems and see what can be done. Hopefully, we will now be able to make progress on that issue.

Lord Browne mentioned motor racing, which is a very relevant consideration — whether it is on two or four wheels, motor racing is a very important spectator sport in Northern Ireland. For example, the North West 200 is the largest outdoor sporting event in Northern Ireland, and probably throughout these islands. That event has built up a considerable following over the years and has improved its safety. There are other events, such as the Ulster grand prix at Kirkistown, that I want to examine to see what help I can provide to further enhance the good work on safety consideration. If Lord Browne does not mind, I will return to the issue at a later date, but I am giving it consideration. Edgar will respond to the question about the number of games that the three sporting bodies committed to hold at the multi-sports stadium.

Mr Jardine:

The fine detail of that was made available to the Committee in the business plan, which was published a number of months ago. To summarise, the business plan was premised on the identification of the minimum number of games required to make the multi-sports stadium viable, which would create a maintenance fund. The minimum was set at 16 guaranteed events. That figure did not include events such as the 4 Associations Tournament which kicks off in 2011 and would result in additional soccer games. The GAA identified the potential to bring non-Ulster games to the stadium, such as quarter- and semi-finals of major tournaments. In addition to the sporting demand, there was provision in the business case for a series of concerts at the stadium. The minimum number of events to make the business case viable was 16 — anything above that was a bonus.

The Chairperson:

The Committee must not be misrepresented: it does not support the diversion of money from the multi-sports stadium project for other purposes.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I was not suggesting that; I was merely saying that my understanding of last week’s meeting was that the Committee would support resources being invested in the improvement of safety at sports grounds. My point is that I can make that investment purely as a result of the decision that I took last month; I am not saying that the Committee does or does not endorse it.

The Chairperson:

Was £21 million or £22 million from the comprehensive spending review (CSR) set aside for safety at sports grounds?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I will write to the Committee about that.

The Chairperson:

Has the Department already returned £1 million of the money that was set aside to improve safety at sports grounds?

Mr Jardine:

I need to check the figures. I know that a certain amount was returned, but I am not sure whether that was intended for improving safety at sports grounds.

Mr McNarry:

Hold on a second; that was the case last week.

Mr Shannon:

The Department returned £807,000.

Mr McNarry:

What has changed in the seven days since last week’s meeting? You were present at that meeting, Mr Harkness.

Mr Harkness:

Yes.

Mr McNarry:

You gave evidence last week; how do you not know today what you knew last week?

Mr Harkness:

You are asking a different question. I said that I do not know how much had been set aside in the CSR. I can confirm, as I confirmed last week, that £807,000 out of a £4 million budget for the current financial year could not be spent by two clubs for several reasons. However, the SNI was able to transfer that investment to other local sports projects under the Places for Sport programme, and expenditure on those is under way. We hope that the money will be fully expended by the end of the financial year.

The Chairperson:

I want it made absolutely clear that the Committee has not expressed an opinion that money for the development of a multi-sports stadium should be diverted from that project.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

There has been no insinuation that that is the case.

Mr D Bradley:

Good morning, Minister. You described the funding for Windsor Park as short tem; a stop-gap measure to ensure that the ground reaches the standard required to host international matches. Given that you said that it is short-term funding, my impression is that it is a short-term measure.

The GAA’s strategy, Beir Bua Nua, states its requirement for a stadium with a capacity of 45,000. The GAA is now talking about having to stage normal championship matches, such as Armagh versus Tyrone, in Croke Park, because it does not have a stadium in Ulster, in either the Six Counties or the nine counties, that can accommodate such a game. It cannot accommodate the number of spectators that the games could attract to the annual Ulster final. There is, therefore, a need for a multi-sports stadium.

From what you said about Windsor Park, the soccer community probably needs such a stadium too, and the Committee is aware that Ravenhill’s accommodation is restrictive. There seems to be an objective need for a stadium in Northern Ireland to accommodate the three main footballing traditions, although other sports would benefit too. Mr Jardine mentioned music concerts, and so forth, that could be staged there.

Should you not work to fulfil that need, not only on behalf of the three main footballing traditions but on behalf of the entire community of Northern Ireland so that there is a stadium of which people can be proud and in which everyone can participate? In response to Mr McCarthy’s point about a shared future, you said that people would go to the stadium at different times and, therefore, it would not be shared in the proper sense of the word. However, a multi-sports stadium would be a neutral venue, and people who would not normally go to international soccer matches might well go to them because of that.

The same applies to GAA games and rugby games. As the Minister responsible, you should advocate that case.

There have been reports in the media that the decision on the Maze stadium was taken on a sectarian basis; it was alleged that you did not want a multi-sports stadium with the GAA’s participation. Do you refute those claims?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

You asked three or four questions; I will try to deal with each one.

Mr Bradley referred to the GAA’s need for a 45,000-seater stadium. When I met the GAA, I made it clear, as I did to the other governing bodies — and as I have done on several occasions — what the options were; that is a matter for them. If they tell me in a few weeks’ time that they would like to have a 45,000-seater stadium — I am using that number because Mr Bradley used it — in a certain location, I will consider that proposal. Mr Bradley referred to the GAA’s Ulster Council either on a six-county or a nine-county basis. I cannot fund a project that is to be located outside Northern Ireland; however, if it were located in Northern Ireland, I could. Whether that is an option is a matter for the GAA. It can come back to me on that issue.

We are going over old ground when we discuss what a shared stadium could be for. All the issues that Mr Bradley and others mentioned, such as the number of games and the possible staging of concerts, have been considered. Successive accounting officers — not I — came up with a shortfall of £156 million to £193 million after all those possibilities had been taken into account. I did not make that assessment. We are talking about the past, and we have to move on. I hope that I have dealt with that issue satisfactorily.

As for Ravenhill —

Mr D Bradley:

Are you saying that there is no hope for a multi-sports stadium for Northern Ireland?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

Mr Ramsey asked me if the uncertainty had gone, and Mr Bradley appears to be asking me the same question: the Maze multi-sports stadium is off the table. I am going into John Cleese mode here: “the parrot is dead”.

Mr D Bradley:

Is the concept of a multi-sports stadium elsewhere off the agenda?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

If the three, or two of the three, sporting bodies involved said that they wanted to consider a project somewhere else, I will consider it. I have had no indications that that is what they are doing, but I will await their response. I asked the governing bodies to report to me in a matter of weeks. Since I met them a few weeks ago, I imagine that within a couple of weeks or thereabouts I will receive responses from each of them. I do not want to pre-empt, predict or second-guess them — let us see what they come back with.

Mr Bradley rightly mentioned Ravenhill’s needs. Rugby in Northern Ireland does not need a 45,000-seater stadium. That sport’s governing body made it clear to me the sizes and structures and corporate issues that it wishes to deal with. Again, like the GAA and football, it must submit proposals that are best suited for its sport. The project that we are now engaged in meets the needs, on a strategic basis, of the three sports involved. I hope that most people would agree that that is the way forward. Let us meet those needs as far as we can; that is what I have to do.

If we could get an acceptable neutral venue that met the criteria, that would be preferable. However, we have spent the past six or seven years being unable to do that.

I could spend my time as Minister — however long that may be — trying to establish what no one else has been able to establish; or I could say, “let’s get a move on.” I have decided to do the latter; I intend to get a move on.

Mr McCarthy:

As Minister, should you not be responsible for leadership and for trying to encourage what we are all trying to achieve: a shared multi-sports stadium somewhere in Northern Ireland? Leadership is the name of the game.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I am glad that Mr McCarthy used that terminology. If I had wanted to avoid leadership, I would have sat on my hands. If I had wanted not to give leadership, I would have spent the last nine months of my tenure — and the next seven months — going through the motions of trying to get people to agree to an outcome to which I know they will not agree. Instead, I made a decision. Criticism can come from wherever it may, I do not care; I have made a decision, I stand by it, and I will not move from it. That is leadership.

Mr McCausland:

Thank you, Minister, for your presentation. I apologise for being late; I was engaged in a frank exchange with the Arts Council and was delayed. I am glad that representatives of the Arts Council will appear later.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I look forward to the Hansard report on that.

The Chairperson:

We will allow them to make an opening statement, Nelson, before you speak.

Mr McCausland:

Your generosity is noted.

Minister, following your decision that there will not be a multi-sports stadium at the Maze, over the next two years there will be £69 million to £70 million for stadium development. From your conversations with the three governing bodies, something will emerge that will involve some of that money being used as expenditure on direct projects. Last week, the Committee discussed safety in sports grounds. Since there will be underspend, I propose that the money available from that pot be directed to addressing safety in sports grounds. You noted earlier that that received the unanimous support of the Committee —

The Chairperson:

The Committee is not agreed on that.

Mr McCausland:

It was last week. The Hansard report will confirm that, and I look forward to seeing that report.

The Chairperson:

The Committee is not agreed on the diversion of £69 million from the multi-sports stadium to other purposes.

Mr McCausland:

I did not say that; I think the difficulty sometimes is in hearing one. I said that there would be underspend in the money for stadium development. That money was not just for a multi-sports stadium; it was, as the Minister pointed out, for stadium development. That was proposed and agreed unanimously by the Committee.

The Chairperson:

That is not so.

Mr McCausland:

The Hansard report will confirm that it was. Perhaps, Chairman, some people slept through that meeting and did not know what was going on.

The Chairperson:

I ask you not to be so insulting and to put your question to the Minister.

Mr McCausland:

I emphasise that the Committee expressed a strong view — that Hansard will confirm — that it was unanimously agreed that the money should be diverted to address safety in sports grounds. We agreed that that was a priority and that it would be criminal of us not to spend the money to that end.

Mr McNarry:

That is a wrong assumption, Nelson; that was not my interpretation of what happened, and I sat beside you at that meeting.

Mr McCausland:

We can go through the Hansard report.

The Chairperson:

Will you ask your question, Nelson? The officials accompanying the Minister told me that his time is valuable; he was due to have left some 15 minutes ago. I need you to ask your question, as Francie Brolly would like to ask a question too.

Mr McCausland:

I am more than happy to do so when I get the opportunity. Given that that decision was made last week, how quickly can the money be directed into addressing safety in sports grounds, and how can we work with the Sports Council to speed up that process as much as possible?

Mr Brolly:

We are missing the point of the multi-sports stadium, as it was not altogether about sport or providing sporting facilities for the various bodies; it was seen by the direct rule Ministers who introduced the idea as a microcosm of a state emerging from trouble into a peaceful and shared future. From my dealings with the GAA, I know that that was how the idea was sold to the GAA. The GAA could have said that it was not interested and asked instead for money to renovate Casement Park or build a new stadium elsewhere; other sporting bodies could have said the same.

It is a sad reflection on us that we have no vision. The wider world will ask what happened to that lovely idea of a stadium, which had progressed as far as having a clever design that accommodated the needs of all three sports. The £4 million spent on the process has gone down the drain for lack of vision. The world is likely to conclude that vision in the North of Ireland is through the wing mirrors rather than through the windscreen. That is my first point. Is the Minister disappointed?

There is absolute social and political consensus throughout the state for this idea. I do not know where the lack of political consensus that the Minister has identified lies, but it is certainly not among those who live here, nor is it among the three sporting bodies, which carry considerable political clout.

The Minister dismissed the idea of a shared stadium — the idea that I described as a microcosm of the state. Everyone appreciated the considerable gesture when Croke Park was opened up to rugby and soccer. People applauded and said: now we are going somewhere in this country. The Minister should not dismiss the potential in a multi-sports stadium.

When will the Minister’s decision — that the Maze stadium idea is dead — be considered by the Executive? What considerations will the Department take into account when the money for Long Kesh is divided up among the various sports? Will they look at the numerical strength of participants, supporters or followers of the three sports, or will they simply consider the needs of one to be more urgent than those of the others? The best followed sports here are GAA sports: when the cake is cut, that has to be taken into consideration. Soccer and rugby come next.

Mr McNarry:

No discrimination there, Francie?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I will refer to some of the more political points, and then I will ask Nick to deal with Nelson’s point, which was more about statistics.

Mr Brolly referred to political consensus: I have addressed that on several occasions already.

I have a long-standing, personal interest in sport. I find that people who are involved in sport or who attend sporting events resent their allegiances or preferences being used for a political or symbolic purpose. People watch a football, Gaelic or rugby match because that is what they want to do; it is their sporting choice. Over and over again, people tell me that they do not like their sporting preference used as a political battering-ram for others trying to forward their own objectives.

They are at Ravenhill because they want to watch the rugby, they are at Casement Park because they want to watch Gaelic, and they are at Windsor Park because they want to watch football. They leave their politics at the gate and pick them up on their way out. That is how most people who are interested in sport live their lives and enjoy their sport. I have said as much as I need to on that.

Mr Brolly:

May I make a point, just in case I have misrepresented myself? I have played, and am interested in, all three football sports.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

People know that I am a football fan and that I go to matches regularly.

As regards the Executive decision, I have had a paper before the Executive for the past four weeks, and the Executive will decide what they want to do with it.

There are several criteria that I use in quantifying needs. One is demand. Another is definable interest, in so far as it can be defined in the three sports. I want to come to a conclusion that is justifiable, defendable and equitable for all three sports; that will emerge over of time. I need to quash the idea that the three sporting bodies have approached me; it is a matter for them to say what their choices are. However, when I said that I would like them to consider a short range of options, they were more than content to do so. None of them said, “Minister, we think you should do X, Y or Z”, or “Our preference is for whatever.” They were more than content that the uncertainty had ended. That was my objective.

I will ask Nick to deal with Mr McCausland’s question.

Mr Harkness:

Mr McCausland asked about the timescale for expenditure if money became available. I am pleased to advise the Committee that, as I confirmed last week, Sport Northern Ireland had opened its stadia safety programme at risk in the absence of confirmed budgets. As a result of work undertaken by applicants, we now have businesses cases at an advanced stage for seven projects to the value of £6·4 million, requiring investment of £5·4 million.

Because of the early opening of the programme, and subject to budgets being made available, those projects could start within the next few months. They are at an advanced state of readiness. Furthermore, we intend to open the programme as soon as possible. There is a likelihood of increased funds becoming available, so we will invite additional applications. Pending confirmation of budgets within a suitable time frame, we have projects ready to go within months.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

We would not have had funding for that had I not taken my decision.

The Chairperson:

The Minister has been generous with his time this morning. I have requests from Mr McCarthy, Mr Ramsey and Mr McNarry to make brief points.

Mr McCarthy:

Why has there been a reluctance to introduce the Football (Offences) Act 1991? It would allay many fears of those involved in sport.

Mr P Ramsey:

My question concerns safety at sports grounds. I know that Sport Northern Ireland and DCAL are honourable and have the best of intentions. However, there is a concern that we are being trapped in bureaucracy. Sport Northern Ireland carried out inspections, and now it is setting up an overseeing body to carry out inspections, and it expects local authorities to carry out the same inspections. We all know the priorities. Will the Minister show leadership to ensure that once problems with safety have been identified they are prioritised and dealt with?

Mr McNarry:

Minister, some months ago we were treated to a splendid media fanfare in the Great Hall, which, I think, was put on by your Department when it was instrumental in bringing designers and architects here. We refused to see them, for which we were roundly criticised. Experts have appeared before the Committee as cheerleaders for the Maze project.

It is clear from the Minister’s remarks — and I respect them and the thought behind them — that value for money contributed significantly to his decision. How much was spent on the project before the question of value for money arose?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I will try to get through the answers as quickly as possible.

The Football (Offences) Act 1991, which Mr McCarthy mentioned, is a very important issue. I have met Paul Goggins, and the Northern Ireland Office led on this issue and has brought it to the point that it is at now. I want to support the Northern Ireland Office in proceeding to a consultation exercise to have that project dealt with, because it is very important.

Regarding Mr Ramsey’s question on safety in sports, my understanding is that we are following the same course of action and protocols as have been followed in England and Wales.

Mr Harkness:

The inspections are for two different purposes. The legislation sets out the process, and Sport NI will inspect grounds to advise the Department on whether they should be designated. It is then the responsibility of district councils to inspect the grounds under the terms of any licence that they would grant to the grounds on spectator numbers or on any other terms that might be assigned to a licence.

Mr Jardine:

The resources were allocated to the Department on the basis of the then agreed master plan to do two things: to bring forward the economic appraisal; and to undertake the design work. The two strands were in parallel because there was an aspiration that the project would move ahead in time for the 2012 Olympics, as we had been offered some opportunities by Seb Coe. It takes about four years from the submission of a planning application until the project is completed. To have any prospect of meeting the 2012 deadline, those strands would have to have moved in parallel.

A great deal of the work that went into the economic appraisal will feed through into any new economic appraisal, and the research work on attendances and crowd sizes, for example, will be equally relevant. Some very innovative work was done in the design, and if a new stadium were to be created, rather than refurbishing or upgrading an existing site, that work would have significant relevance there as well.

Mr McNarry:

My question was: how much did all that cost?

Mr Jardine:

The total to date is about £3·6 million —

Mr McNarry:

To date?

Mr Jardine:

That is what it has cost.

Mr McNarry:

Has that £3·6 million been wasted?

Mr Jardine:

Much of the work that went into the economic appraisal and to the design will feed through to whatever the next iteration may be.

Mr McNarry:

That is hypothetical.

Mr McCarthy:

We hope that it can be used if something does come up; otherwise it will have been squandered.

Mr McNarry:

That is the answer that we got to Workplace 2010: roll it in and roll it up.

Mr Brolly:

I was just wondering whether the Department has any spare tickets for the game on Saturday.

The Chairperson:

I thank the Minister and the senior officials for their presentation and for their answers.

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