Lisburn Councillors received an update from representatives from the Maze/Long Kesh Programme Delivery Unit at Monday night’s Planning Committee meeting, where they heard that £21 million funding is available for development of the land at the site of the former prison over four years and that an application for further money has been made to PEACE III.
They were also told the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) hope to hold the Balmoral show on the site next year.
Kyle Alexander, Programme Director on the MLK Programme Delivery Unit, told local representatives that clearance work at the site, which is twice the size of the Titanic Quarter, will be completed in July.
“We have been working with the RUAS and they have said they would like the Balmoral show on site next year. We are at an advanced stage with the Society, with the deal needing to be approved by Ministers,” he said.
And he revealed the RUAS is also keen to create a centre of excellence for agriculture at the Maze.
Mary McKee, Director of Social Regeneration on the MLK Programme Delivery Unit, said this stage would only cover 26 acres in the 350 acre site.”
“Politically, it is a huge element, but it is still a small part of the site. This is about social regeneration for everyone,” she said.
Lisburn Mayor, Alderman Paul Porter was also voted onto the Maze Development Corporation at the meeting. The corporation will oversee the redevelopment of the site including the construction of the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre.
Mr Porter said it was ‘imperative’ work goes ahead very quickly.
“We have over 350 acres on the site which we can use to benefit the entire City of Lisburn and Northern Ireland PLC,” he said.
“This is a very challenging time and we hope to see major progress on the site. We have to be positive about this, it will bring jobs to the city, investment to the city with capital projects. The people of Lisburn need to see this site developed.”
Planning Committee Chairman, Councillor Ronnie Crawford added: “I am pleased to see this site finally go ahead after ten years. We have lost a substantial amount of money because of delays and the loss of the Maze stadium, but the money obtained for the Conflict Resolution Centre should be a good thing for Lisburn in the long term.
“The RUAS want to hold the Balmoral Show next year in marquees, which will give a vote of confidence to the site.
“The main thing is we get the site up and running and bring investment in to bring in more rates, jobs and housing.”
Despite the anger over the scrapping of plans for a national sports stadium and the controversy over the conflict resolution centre, councillors generally welcomed the news that work is finally underway at the site.
However, not every Councillor at the meeting was entirely pleased, with TUV Alderman Cecil Calvert saying the proposed Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre would become a “shrine to terrorists.”
Mr Calvert said: “The people of Lisburn have been offered crumbs from the table in the latest plans. Whilst I am not against the redevelopment of the site, I am against the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre. I agree with Nigel Dodds when he said, and I quote, ‘However it is dressed up, whatever spin is deployed, the preservation of a section of the H block, including the hospital wing, would become a shrine to the terrorists that would be obnoxious to the vast majority of people and that is something that the Unionist people will not accept’.
“Whether Nigel Dodds still now believe what he said, I don’t know, but the DUP seem now to approve such a shrine; how times have changed.”
Mr Calvert, however, said that he welcomed the Ulster Aviation Society’s use of the WWII Aircraft Hangars at Long Kesh Airfield under the regeneration scheme.
He said: “I welcome the Ulster Aviation Society, they are already there and doing a good job, but the total plan falls short of what we were promised.”