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Problems and opposition dog Maze stadium plans

Serious opposition appears to be growing to plans for the redevelopment of the world-famous Maze Prison site in Northern Ireland.

Opponents are becoming increasingly frustrated by KSS' plans to demolish the vast majority of the site and replace it with a stadium that will host matches in the 2012 Olympics football competition.

This opposition has seen an unlikely alliance between local sport fans, who are campaigning for a stadium to be built in Belfast itself, and archaeologists keen to see construction work postponed.

The historians want to spend longer analysing the building - an icon of the thirty-year Troubles in the province - before it is lost forever.

Archaeologist Laura McAtackney wrote in this month's British Archaeologymagazine: 'Why clear such an iconic site, much discussed but little researched or understood, before necessity dictates? And why should less than 15 acres be retained when space is evidently not an issue?

'Building biographies, particularly for the H Blocks and Nissan huts, could be discovered through careful examination of plans and remains. We can ascertain how the buildings were originally conceived, and what alterations by the prison authorities and subversions by the prisoners occurred.

'This could include both structural and superficial changes, such as the wall murals and graffiti', she adds.

Ironically, if one of the scheme's chief ambitions is to be achieved, it could cause yet more trouble for the project. The stadium's backers are determined that it should be used in a highly non-sectarian way, by both Gaelic football and soccer fans alike.

But the architects admit this could be extremely problematic given that Gaelic games need a pitch 130-145m long by 75-90m, wide while soccer has pitches 90-120m long and 45-90m wide.

TheStadium 4 Belfast campaign group is also proving a thorn in the side of KSS' proposals.

'There can be a tremendous atmosphere in a city, pre- and post-match, when there is a major sporting event, be it a successful run for Ulster in the European Cup, a Northern Ireland international in a World Cup Qualifying campaign, or a GAA Ulster final', the group's campaign literature says.

'This atmosphere would be well and truly isolated and lost in a location so far from surrounding amenities. A stadium in Belfast would benefit local businesses and tourist sites would prosper when away fans come to the city.

'We want our stadium in Belfast, not at the Maze', the group concludes.

by Ed Dorrell

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