Government rules out plugging Casement funding gap as costs estimates hit over £300m

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State has been told by Stormont officials that the projected costs for Casement Park to host the Euros have been estimated at £308million. The cost for the stadium build has been confirmed for the first time in a letter, seen by UTV, from the Secretary of State to the Communities Minister responsible for the delayed project. In the letter from Chris Heaton-Harris to Gordon Lyons, the Secretary of State says the multi-million pound figure was confirmed by officials from the Department for Communities in a letter to the Northern Ireland Office in December.

Mr Heaton-Harris's letter is in response to correspondence from Minister Lyons last month asking the government what its contribution to the project will be. The Secretary of State replied: "I need to be clear, the UK Government will not accept a position where it is expected to cover the scale of funding gap there appears to exist for a project in which costs have increased considerably with no guarantee that costs will not rise further." Last week the Irish Government committed £43m to the Casement Park stadium. The Stormont Executive has pledged £62m while the GAA has promised £15m. The GAA's new president Jarlath Burns has said he is against the sport increasing its contribution to the project. That now leaves a funding gap of at least £190m. In his letter to the Communities Minister Chris Heaton-Harris also writes: "The government has demonstrated through decisive action on HS2 that if a project becomes unreasonably expensive and does not represent value for money, then a different approach needs to be taken.” It is the second time the Secretary of State has compared the Casement development to the scrapped HS2 rail development in Great Britain. Last year the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a long running plan to build a high-speed rail line in northern England would not go ahead because of spiralling costs amounting to billions of pounds.

Chris Heaton-Harris made the comparison between HS2 and Casement last week when he gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. “I am very wary that contractors when bidding for a contract like Casement Park might choose to think that the taxpayers’ largesse is infinite in this space, and I want to ensure that it is absolutely understood whilst, I am sure there will be a decent taxpayer contribution, it’s got to be done on a value for money basis.

"And I think this government’s demonstrated through what it’s done with HS2 that if it’s absolutely, something becomes way too expensive then things have to change.”

Before deciding what happens next Mr Heaton-Harris has now asked the Communities Minister to clarify several points around Casement:

  • for the most recent estimate of costs associated with the redevelopment

  • if the Executive has considered increasing its share of funding

  • and what is the current funding deficit

Chris Heaton Harris has previously guaranteed Casement Park, which is to host football's European Championship games in 2028 - will be built in time.

" I have made clear that I would like to see EURO 2028 take place at Casement Park buy any taxpayer contribution to the Casement Park project will need to be made on a value for money basis."

Earlier this week, Colum Boyle, the permanent secretary at the Department for Communities, acknowledged that the funding shortfall for the build remained the key issue but said “conversations are happening” with the UK Government on that matter.

“Actually, we’re in good shape, in terms of what is an exceptionally challenging programme of work – Casement Park is really, really difficult,” Mr Boyle told the Assembly oversight committee.

Sinn Féin Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald, in an interview with UTV, said they "could not countenance" Casement's rebuild not happening before the Euros.

"It is an Executive committee and it needs to be delivered on," she said.

A Department for Communities spokesperson said: “Engagement is ongoing with all funding partners in relation to the redevelopment of Casement Park.

“This a complex project which has evolved over time. Changes in configuration will now mean it will be a venue for both Gaelic games and for the third largest sporting event in the world.

“A prudent approach is being taken in relation to the estimation of costs, however, it must be remembered that the final costs will only be reached at the conclusion of a competitive tender process.”

The GAA has been contacted for comment.

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