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Studio Egret West plants seeds for Maze prison site overhaul

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Studio Egret West finally looks to have made a breakthrough in the long-running saga surrounding the future of the notorious Maze Prison site in Northern Ireland

The practice has submitted plans to convert the Maze Long Kesh (MLK) in Belfast into the new headquarters for the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS).

The first phase planning application for the renamed ‘Balmoral Park’ includes exhibition space and showgrounds for its annual three-day show - the largest agricultural show in Northern Ireland. The RUAS has outgrown its existing home at Kings Hall and hopes the new site will be ready in time to host the 2013 Balmoral Show.

Numerous failed attempts have been made to regenerate the former prison site over the years including a HOK Sport-led bid to build a ‘multi-sport stadium’ on the plot following an international competition in 2006.

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The architect’s view

We were commissioned in January 2012 to masterplan the RUAS Balmoral Park site within the emerging MLK strategic planning framework. Our work involving visioning for Balmoral Park and wider MLK site, producing development options with schematic architecture and landscape designs.

The evolving proposal puts the new showgrounds at the heart of the site and frames these with a series of buildings that anchor Balmoral Park into the wider MLK site. In the short term these buildings will be temporary - erected on an event basis - but over the next 10 years the RUAS aspires to develop a world class centre for agricultural excellence in Northern Ireland including, new exhibition halls, a one-planet-living centre, International equestrian centre, agri-business village and an ecology park with hotel and conference faculties.

On the 15 June 2012 the RUAS membership voted in favour of moving the RUAS to Balmoral Park site and building out a legacy project on the existing Kings Hall site. The first phase planning application is the culmination of six months of work by ourselves with OCP Project Management,  RPS Group and Clyde Shanks and begins the process of moving the RUAS to Balmoral Park, which will host it’s first Balmoral Show in 2013.

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