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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kenwood (Local Democracy Reporter)

Wave of environmental objections to Ulster Rugby plan to replace Kingspan natural pitch with 3G

Ulster Rugby Kingspan Stadium Belfast

Ulster Rugby is facing a swathe of local objection to its plan for a new 3G pitch at the Kingspan Stadium in East Belfast.

Elected representatives at the Belfast City Council Planning Committee this week deferred an application from Ulster Rugby, Kingspan Stadium, 134 Mount Merrion Avenue, to replace its existing natural grass rugby pitch with a new 3G surface, and conduct associated under-pitch drainage and other site works.

Alliance Councillor Eric Hanvey successfully proposed a site visit by the council to ascertain the potential environmental impact and suggested the council wait for pending reports from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Stormont’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

The plan for the stadium involves operational works on and under land, with earthworks to remove the grass pitch, the installation of a subbase layer and a new surface on the land.

Council officers thus far have recommended that elected representatives approve the plan. The planning report states:

“The proposal would not adversely impact on amenity, (while) traffic related concerns would be temporary in nature in association with the construction process and therefore have a limited impact.

“The proposed scale, form, massing, design, and materials proposed are considered acceptable and will not adversely impact on local character. The scale and character of the proposed works would be reasonably expected at a sports facility of this nature.

“The associated impacts on drainage and the wider environmental impacts have been considered and the council are still awaiting a final response from shared environmental services and NIEA/DAERA regarding additional information received. Delegated authority is sought to the Director of Planning and Building Control to resolve any technical matters arising from this response.”

Statutory consultees DFI Roads, Historic Environment Division, NI Water, the Rivers Agency, and Environmental Health all had no objections to the proposal.

However the council did receive 46 objections and one letter of support. Objectors raised a series of issues, including HGV traffic impact upon old foundations in residential areas, its impact upon school children walking, and impact upon wildlife, trees and hedges. A traffic management plan was said to be “not clear.”

Objectors also allege a lack of notification given to residents, a lack of clarity and transparency from Ulster Rugby, and a lack of “information and understanding” from Ulster Rugby regarding the local ecosystem. Objectors allege that the council gave “misinformation” to Ulster Rugby.

Objectors flag the potential impact of microplastics on the natural environment and wildlife, rubber infill impacts on the ecosystem, wildlife, and human health, the use of potentially hazardous materials, and they add that no biodiversity checklist was submitted with the application.

Objectors also flag the potential impact of wash-off chemicals used on pitch, and highlight potential negative effects on the Loop River.

The application will appear again in the next council Planning Committee meeting in August.


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