Conor Spackman investigates the delay in redeveloping Casement Park in west Belfast and asks if safety concerns can be resolved.
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It's one of the most successful
amateur sporting organisations in the world.
Every night of the week, young people give their all
in GAA clubs like this.
Here in West Belfast, there's only one thing missing -
a modern stadium.
And this - the dream.
This video, produced by the GAA,
showed the ambitious vision for Casement Park,
to make it the biggest stadium in Northern Ireland.
In 2013, they got planning permission for 38,000 people.
The new ground was meant to be up and running by now.
It was earmarked for some of the biggest games in the GAA calendar.
It was also to be used for big conferences and pop concerts.
But the reality couldn't be more different.
Casement Park has now been derelict for three years.
The development stalled because
some residents were so fiercely opposed to the plan,
they raised £60,000 to go to court.
They won a judicial review and got the planning application thrown out.
Despite that setback, the GAA are still determined
to build a big stadium on this site.
Today, the GAA launched the first in a series of events
intended to hear people's views on a proposed new stadium,
though the full details are not yet known.
It's getting ready to put in a new application in the autumn.
You can see the old stadium when you arrive into Belfast on the M1.
It's here at the junction
which leads you into the west of the city.
You know you're at Casement Park when you see those big floodlights.
This area was countryside back in 1953
when the locals raised the money for the original stadium.
The stands were built from old American Air Force girders.
For many years, the GAA has wanted a provincial stadium for Ulster.
The model would be Croke Park, the jewel in the crown.
To play here is really the dream of every GAA player,
and when you come here, you can see why.
It really is a breath-taking stadium.
It holds about 82,000 people.
What the GAA wants is a smaller version of this,
right in the heart of West Belfast.
The people of West Belfast have been looking forward to the redevelopment
of Casement Park for some time.
And I think Casement will be a significant sports stadium
but it'll also be a community facility, a facility where people
can turn up, they can meet up, activities will happen there.
It'll be a stadium that'll be used 365 days of the year at a low level.
Sinn Fein backed the prestige project for West Belfast.
The party is keen to use public money
to regenerate the constituency,
where, until recently, it held five of the six Assembly seats.
And when cash became available for new sports grounds,
Sinn Fein made sure West Belfast was at the front of the queue.
The Northern Ireland Executive pledged public money to build
three sports grounds at Ravenhill, Windsor and Casement Park.
Ravenhill got £15 million.
Windsor got £25 million.
By far the biggest sum was pledged to Casement - £62 million.
On top of that, the GAA agreed to put in £15 million of its own.
Why does the stadium have to be in West Belfast?
In March 2011, the Executive agreed three stadia for Belfast.
So, to be frank, that's what the Executive agreed in March 2011.
So the money wouldn't be available
if the GAA wanted to go somewhere else?
No, it wouldn't be available.
That's not my understanding of it at all.
Bridghidin Heenan lives beside Casement Park and,
like many other people in West Belfast,
couldn't be more excited that a spectacular new stadium
is coming to her area.
You don't take your provincial stadium and put it in...
somewhere... I don't want to insult any Ballygawley roundabout.
But, you know, you put it in your premier location.
We have come through such a long time of hard...
you know, hard times and political unrest
and all the stuff that went through it. Let's get happy stories.
But that location is proving a major problem.
That and the scale.
At its highest point, the stadium was due to be 36 metres,
a big problem for some people living nearby.
One of the residents' objections to this proposal
was its sheer size. They worried that it would dwarf their houses.
And when you come up in this hoist,
you really do get a sense of the scale of what was planned.
The GAA wanted a stadium which would tower over these streets.
I know very few people in this area who don't want to see it,
but it's the sheer scale and size of the thing.
We're definitely not against it being re-developed.
It's just the size and capacity of it.
Some of those who opposed the plan include life-long GAA supporters.
Pat McManus has been involved with hurling for 73 years.
There's no game in the world to compare with hurling.
It's an outstanding game.
-Did you play in Croke Park?
-I did play in Croke Park, yes.
-What was that like?
-Very special. Very special.
That's one of the reasons I would like this place here fixed up
and games for young people in it.
If they can get out there, it's something special.
I would not want concerts in it...
-How worried are you about that?
-..just for the sake of making money.
The residents' concerns were about scale and disruption.
For others, safety was the big issue.
Paul Scott is one of Northern Ireland's foremost safety experts.
From the Tall Ships to the Belfast marathon,
when people are enjoying themselves, his job has been to keep them safe.
Sometimes health and safety people
are characterised as being there to spoil people's fun.
The safest event is an event which we don't have any spectators at.
So we don't want that to happen. We want the people to come,
we want them to be safe, and we want them to have an enjoyable time.
Paul Scott was the civil servant
in charge of making sure the new stadium was safe.
It was the responsibility
of a body called the Safety Technical Group,
which he chaired.
He'd already overseen safety at Ravenhill and Windsor.
But from the very start, he'd had concerns about Casement.
With the GAA pressing ahead with the project,
he decided to go public.
About a year ago, Paul Scott dropped a bombshell.
A Sports Northern Ireland official who's an expert in stadium safety
told MLAs that he had been bullied and put under pressure
to change his opinion about emergency exiting
at the newly designed GAA ground.
From that moment on, safety would become the overriding issue.
I'm just turning left here onto the Andersonstown Road.
This really must be one of the busiest main roads in Belfast.
Most of the time when you come up here,
the traffic is really bumper to bumper.
It's a very, very busy road.
The Casement site is right in the middle of a horseshoe of houses.
The main exits are here at the Andersonstown Road.
The majority of people in the stadium,
would normally leave that way, and the other 28% through side exits.
But if the Andersonstown Road were closed, say because of an accident,
thousands of spectators would have to leave through the side exits.
Paul Scott's concern was the 38,000 that would have been seated
in the original plan couldn't get to safety quickly enough.
Paul Scott and other safety experts say that in an emergency situation,
people need to be away from danger in eight minutes.
After that, panic sets in.
It has got to be remembered that of all...most of the disasters
at sporting venues, entertainment venues, and like venues,
it is the panic and the crushing that kills the people.
It's not the primary incident.
It's not the fire, it's not the disorder, it is the crushing.
And why is it particularly likely to happen at Casement Park?
Because we do not have a suitable number of exits
at appropriate locations around the venue.
We are trying to get 38,000 people outside exits
which are suitable for about 15,000.
This is Paul Scott's first interview
since he publicly identified his safety concerns.
I believe in the public interest and in public safety.
It is important that these issues are properly aired.
I have a duty to raise those issues.
His analysis of the problem has been backed by the PSNI,
ambulance service and the fire service.
..this role since February 2014.
To get a sense of the potential capacity for Casement,
this is what 38,000 people looks like,
here at last month's London Marathon.
In the worst-case scenario, with the Andersonstown Road closed,
the only place for people to go once they're out of the stadium is here,
the streets around Casement.
38,000 people proposed in the original plan
would flood onto these streets...
..with just one way out, through this narrow path.
And that would lead them onto this busy roundabout
where the M1 joins West Belfast.
Professor Phil Scraton has spent years campaigning for the families
of those killed at Hillsborough, Britain's worst stadium disaster.
He, too, has concerns about safety at Casement.
He is worried about people coming in as well as people going out.
It's very difficult to use Hillsborough as the foundation
for a critique of the new development here.
However, having said that,
there is one similarity that really does concern me
and that is the build-up outside Hillsborough,
at the Leppings Lane end outside the ground,
that build-up came from an arterial road
precisely because it had to service one end of the stadium
and one half of the stadium and another grandstand,
so nearly half of the full capacity
were going in through one end.
My concern with Casement Park is that people coming in,
off the Andytown Road into that end of the stadium,
so many people all at once, it puts a tremendous concentration.
-Is it dangerous?
-Well, to ask the question about
whether something is dangerous is a real problem for me,
because it writes a headline for the newspapers
and I don't want to be quoted
by anybody as saying this is implicitly a dangerous situation.
This is not a stadium that would be built
if we were moving from scratch.
And, therefore, there are danger points
that are absolutely clear for anybody to see.
Paul Scott says he was reporting his concerns about safety
to the Department of Culture, Arts & Leisure, or DCAL.
He says the department tried to pressurise him
into changing the reports.
One DCAL official noted Paul Scott's assertion
that full capacity might not be possible was "unacceptable".
On another occasion he was told that his safety report was,
"At odds with the department's requirements."
We were left wondering, has no-one heard of Hillsborough?
Has no-one heard of Bradford? Has no-one heard of the other disasters?
They are essentially asking 38,000 people to be accommodated
in a venue with an emergency evacuation capacity of 15 to 16,000.
So when these notes were coming back to you
and they were asking you to change, how were you feeling at that point?
Incredulous that here is representatives
of a government department charged with the safety of spectators
asking us to break the rules.
And were you...?
Were you under pressure to break the rules, did you feel?
We were told what was expected of us.
Yes, we got e-mails asking us to change our report.
The department told us it had ordered an independent investigation
to see if there was any evidence of misconduct by their officials
and the inquiry report rejected Paul Scott's allegations.
But Paul Scott wasn't prepared to sign off on a 38,000-seater stadium
until his concerns about emergency exiting were addressed.
One of the difficulties
in overcoming the emergency exiting problem
was that some homes and gardens
are tight up against the walls of the stadium.
-I asked in the chemist's next door and they said...
-..they couldn't tell me what time he'd be back at.
77-year-old Bobby Murray and his wife Sheila
have lived next to Casement for 48 years.
Recently, Bobby had to have his legs amputated after an accident.
But what I intend to do is get a ramp down on these steps
and be able to drive down into the garden there
and just sit there and pass the time.
What sort of effect has the proposed Casement development had?
Well, I think it is going to destroy my daylight,
because they are talking about building
at nearly the height of that lamp up yonder.
I have a good fear of an emergency
and me being out there trying to get into my vehicle,
I would be in big trouble.
I need to park at my door.
They will be coming along to say I am not allowed to park there.
I don't know whether they can do it or not.
After four years of uncertainty,
some residents are considering selling up.
But not everyone.
I want to see my days out here, cos I love this place.
It's up to the GAA to solve the emergency exiting problem.
Spotlight has uncovered a confidential proposal it had
to knock down houses to create more space.
The question is, is that still part of its plan?
What happened before is that there were options being looked at
in relation to the emergency exiting situation at Casement Park.
So you can give a cast-iron guarantee
there won't be any houses demolished as part of this process?
No cast-iron guarantees...
-You said there were no plans.
-I'm saying there are no plans,
but I'm saying that we can't give cast-iron guarantees,
cos it's too early in the design process.
But you're leaving open the possibility.
What we're saying is that it is a design development process
that has just got re-started and it hasn't concluded
and we're not in that position.
OK. The reason I'm asking that is we have a document here.
I just want to show you, and you can tell me whether or not
that's still on the table, or whether that's been ruled out.
one of the ways in which the...
..emergency exiting problem could have been resolved.
Will you just explain to me a bit about what it means?
I think that you're referring to a document
that was produced at the CAL Committee.
I think it's already been discussed and because we're not any longer
talking about that design and that process,
I don't think the GAA needs to comment any further on that.
But what does this show?
I think this is going into...
..territory we're not prepared to get involved in, Conor,
-to be honest.
-Because this scheme's not being developed.
This is dated from after the last planning application.
This was, it seems to me,
an attempt to deal with the emergency exiting problem.
And what this shows
are red lines, which are the flow of people out of the stadium.
-Is that right?
-That's what it is, yeah.
In the drawing, the red lines go through...
..one, two, three, four, five houses.
And did the GAA tell the people in those houses
-that they had this plan?
Was it appropriate to be thinking about solving problems
by demolishing people's houses and not telling the people?
I think it's appropriate in the sense that people were telling us
we had a problem. We were looking at potential solutions to that problem.
But that process has now finished.
We have been to talk to some of these people
who live on Mooreland Drive and that's one of the exits there.
This guy here, who lives in this house, Bobby Murray...
That's the purpose of the consultation process
and I would expect we'll be talking to Mr Murray.
So you can assure Bobby Murray
that you will be making no attempt whatsoever
to demolish his house?
I can't make any assurances
in relation to how the design will finish up.
What I will say that's factual at this minute in time -
the GAA has no plans of that nature.
But Paul Scott is clear there are only two possibilities
to make the stadium safe.
First of all, the capacity can be reduced.
Or, alternatively, homes could be demolished
to create additional exits both immediately away from the stadium
and from the surrounding area.
OK. And what capacity do you think reasonably can be put on that site?
If the homes are demolished, you could get the 38,000 on the site.
However, if homes are not purchased and demolished,
you're looking at high teens.
Some residents are worried demolishing houses
will be back on the table.
It seems that in all the time we were being talked to,
there were people somewhere considering
that in order to make this work,
houses would have to be knocked down.
I think that if they have to go down that line, they have lost.
We went to see some of the residents
who might have been directly affected
by the old secret demolition proposal.
I just wanted to show you this drawing.
These red lines are the flow of people out of the stadium.
-And that red line is going through your house there.
-Yeah, have you seen this before?
-No, I've never.
That's shocking. Nobody's told me.
Did the GAA tell you about it?
No, the GAA haven't spoke to me at all.
They haven't spoke to me or said anything.
It is important to stress that the GAA have told us
this is an old plan.
-How do you feel when you see this?
I feel angry. I feel very angry.
What can I say?
I'm... I'm absolutely gobsmacked, really...
It really is... It's hard to take in.
I mean, is there anybody going to help us here, you know?
The Murrays' house is just around the corner.
What this plan would mean
is that your house wouldn't be there any more.
My house would be gone? Right.
Didn't know that.
I tell you what, I don't like it one piece.
Definitely not. It's a surprise to me.
And as a matter of fact, it's not a surprise, it's a disaster to me.
This is the best place I've ever lived in my lifetime.
We've spoken to the GAA about it,
and they have told us that it's an old plan
-and it's currently off the table.
I definitely don't want to move from here.
Cos look at me, I've no legs.
Where am I going to go?
In a statement since our interview,
the GAA told us the demolition scenario we uncovered
was now obsolete and would not be part of a new planning application.
It pointed out it does not itself have compulsory purchase powers
and has now said the development of Casement Park
will not involve the compulsory purchase of any properties.
It also said the capacity of a new stadium is not yet decided.
When Paul Scott went public with his safety concerns,
the former minister Caral Ni Chuilin
said it was the first time she'd heard about the issue.
But Spotlight has seen a report she was given six months before
where emergency exiting at Casement is listed as an issue.
Here I can show you a document
and this is a report you were given at the sponsor board.
Under "issues", it says,
"Emergency evacuation plan to be further developed
"to meet GAA's need for a 38,000-capacity stadium."
-You were given that report six months...
-That's not a report.
-..before you said it was an issue.
I don't need you to read it out to me. I was at the meeting.
-You chaired the meeting.
-I chaired the meeting.
-It says there was an issue.
-No, it says it IS an issue...
..because an evacuation plan
is an issue for every major capital programme.
But it's under "issues". Issues mean problems.
No, issues mean things that need to be resolved.
-Problems need to be resolved.
-No, issues that need to be resolved.
-So you did know about it at that stage?
-No, I didn't.
'Paul Scott says he's been professionally undermined
'by having his advice ignored.'
It leaves you very angry
because you tried to do the right thing.
You brought the design problems, etc,
to the attention of the department,
and rather than being thanked for what you had done,
you have become the villain of the piece number one,
you have been maligned.
One of the reasons Paul Scott feels he's been maligned
is because of the findings of a special report
commissioned by the minister.
She asked Whitehall civil servants to look at his claims.
When their report came out,
it concluded that Paul Scott was mistaken
in some of his safety views,
and it recommended a new chairperson
for the Safety Technical Group.
This report basically said that you didn't know what you were doing.
-More or less.
-And how does that feel at that point?
Devastating. Absolutely devastating.
It was one of the worst days of my life.
The crux of the dispute over that Whitehall report
centred on the use of the pitch in an emergency evacuation.
Paul Scott's view is that people shouldn't be held on the pitch
in an emergency, but the Whitehall report said the rules
didn't back him up.
That dispute is still subject to an on-going debate.
The former DCAL minister,
who had repeatedly promised to get Casement built,
was quick to emphasize the finding about the pitch.
The 20 recommendations
said that they needed to have a new Safety Technical Group
with many more experts
and certainly specialist advisors on that,
which has since happened.
They said, which was, I thought, very, very clear,
that, in terms of safety evacuation, that the pitch could be used.
But people need to be able to leave quickly
without being held on the pitch,
according to both the Sports Ground Safety Authority in Britain,
and Phil Scraton.
To say that people will be held on the pitch
is, to a large extent, hope rather than reality.
We're foreseeing that, hopefully, people won't panic.
That, hopefully, people would, in that circumstance,
receive instructions from stewards and just stay calm.
But if you're inside a stadium
and you're on a pitch and there's a major incident going off around you,
the one thing you have in your mind,
as we've seen in every single disaster, is getting out.
That's when you have the overloading of the exit points.
That's when you have congestion at the exit points.
And that is the real problem.
The GAA says if all goes well with its next planning application,
the new Casement could be open in 2019.
The GAA genuinely wants Casement to be in Ireland's second city,
a statement of the GAA's role, the GAA's relevance in the community,
and the people of West Belfast deserve that.
West Belfast would have its equivalent of the Titanic Quarter,
bringing tourism and investment to the area,
but there are still unanswered questions
about how to keep fans safe.
I understand that Casement Park is important -
it's a community facility - but however...
Whichever way I look at it
and however strongly I feel that stadia like that
have a meaning for the people who live in the area,
and of course I understand that,
the issue is, we cannot ever compromise crowd safety.
In 2015, there were over 1.5 million people went through Croke Park.
The GAA takes health and safety very, very importantly.
Whatever happens with the GAA's new planning application
in the coming months,
it looks like the battle over Casement will continue.
The challenge will be balancing
the interests of the hundreds of people living around the stadium
with those of the hundreds of thousands who will visit it,
and, above all, the issue of safety.
Hard-hitting investigations on the major stories affecting life in Northern Ireland.
Conor Spackman investigates the delay in redeveloping Casement Park in west Belfast and asks if safety concerns can be resolved.