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Crusaders / Newington stadium, the key to shared future.
November 2008

Usually North Belfast is regarded as an example of strife and division. However I have often theorized that North Belfast because of its geo-political makeup, has the potential to become a model of tolerance and togetherness. That is because the patchwork quilt of interlocking neighbourhoods could be used positively to bring about real cooperation and joint action between our two communities.

However two local football clubs, namely Crusaders and Newington, have put theory into practice by proposing the building of a new football stadium and sports hub, in North Belfast. Both clubs are widely respected and have a significant following on both sides of the sectarian divide.

The project will initially comprise a 4,200 capacity all seated stadium with the provision to expand to nearly 6,000 seats in phase II. The stadium when fully built will consist of four stands and will give a full seating bowl appearance of 6,000 seats. I t will also include hospitality accommodation which can also be used as corporate and private use on non match days. A third generation training pitch and 10 pitch internal soccer dome are also an exciting feature. There will be car parking space for 644 cars plus 5 coaches. The scheme will be built to IFA and international football standards. Its business case is strong and professionally drafted and should stand up to the most rigorous scrutiny. The design of the stadium and associated dome is attractive and exciting and should become a distinctive landmark in the City. All possible measures to accommodate the legitimate concerns of local residents will be taken and subjected to our strict planning rules.

This joint venture is an imaginative cross community scheme and should be given cross community backing. Each club have shown great courage and initiative in coming together to promote this joint scheme. If it goes ahead both will be winners and North Belfast and the City at large will be an even bigger winner.

The design proposal is to build the Stadium at Grove Park, which is presently home to several pitches for many local amateur teams. The site is owned by Belfast City’s Parks department and the Council has given a cautious welcome in principle to the scheme. Doubtless there will be further debate on the practical implications on this scheme and it may well be that the site will be other than the Grove. While I would find that disappointing, as I believe it to be the best site in terms of the historic attachment of both Crusaders and Newington and their supporters to that area. My second choice would be the North Foreshore, which has a massive potential for this part of the City. A stadium built there would have many advantages in terms of an empty brown field site with a good connecting road structure. The Stadium could also act as a magnet for other sporting or commercial development. Again this would be a win/ win for everyone involved, especially the clubs and their supporters.

However for the moment at least I would prefer the Grove, as it seems to be a natural joint home for both clubs. I wish this great and novel scheme well and hope that you as readers will also give it a fair wind.

Crusaders and Newington deserve our congratulations and our support. As the two clubs publicly stated:

“The project will be a flagship for reconciliation and a shared future in deeply segregated North Belfast. Managing shared space will be at the heart of the project’s mission.”

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