Stadia investment programme launched

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has launched a programme of investment in local football grounds in Northern Ireland.

On the 10th March 2011, the Executive endorsed a proposal by the then Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland MLA that the remaining football stadia development at sub regional level should be taken forward as a priority area of spend. In March 2011 the Executive agreed to “meet the strategic needs of football.” The rational for investment in the sub regional stadia programmes includes:

•   the Executive’s Programme for Government, building specifically on the Programme for Government’s commitment to develop sports stadia;

•   individual clubs and/or sporting bodies not having the financial resources to make the scale of investment needed;

•   achieving the positive outcomes of increased participation in sport and physical recreation and improved sporting performances;

•   a requirement to ensure compliance with safety legislation, and the need to address comfort and amenities of stadia.

Aims

By choosing to implement this programme now and setting aside £36 million to fund it, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) is aiming to develop a funding programme specifically targeted at addressing the strategic needs of football, these include:

•   to contribute to addressing the stadium needs of soccer at the sub regional level;

•   to contribute to addressing the low and dwindling attendance at games through the provision of improved facilities;

•   to improve the viability and sustainability of soccer at the sub regional level;

•   to assist in developing safer and more family orientated facilities;

•   to contribute to achieving the increased participation levels anticipated in Sports Matters and to wider government policies and initiatives through health benefits, infrastructure development, neighbourhood renewal, social inclusion and the promotion of a cohesive and socially inclusive society;

•   to develop shared sustainable facilities and maximise the scope for ground sharing

•   to contribute to promotion equality and tackling poverty and social exclusion.

However, with any investment of this type, there is the problem of state aid distorting competition. Prior to 2012 sport infrastructure did not have to comply with state aid rules. That has since changed and DCAL’s initial assessment of the Sub-Regional Stadium Programme for Soccer is that state aid is present in strands 1-3 and may be possible in strands 4-5. To comply with the EU’s General Block Exemption Regulation, the sport infrastructure that gains the investment must not be used exclusively by a single professional sport user and the annual use of the infrastructure by other professionals should account for at least 20 per cent of time capacity.

“this programme has the potential to revolutionise football here”

      IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson

Strands

In order to align the programme with the IFA Facilities Strategy, DCAL has broken down the investment plan into five distinct strands.

Strand 1: Safe stadia

   The safe stadia strand of the strategy is designed to provide funding towards the achievement of safe stadia. The main stadium of focus in this strand is Glentoran FC’s stadium, The Oval. The stadium will, it is hoped, be suitable for hosting high level competition matches with a moderate capacity level of 6,000 to 8,000 people. A budget of £10 million has been made available for this strand with a minimum of 20 per cent partnership funding required.

Strand 2: Significant sub-regional stadia

   The purpose of this strand is to provide sub-regional stadia which can sit at the hub of key communities and can offer quality football facilities and community facilities which bring revenues into the club tenants, thus making football in the area more sustainable. A budget of roughly £17 million will be made available for this strand with the maximum award for any individual project set at £3 million. A minimum of 20 per cent partnership funding will also be required for any project that wishes to commence with development.

Strand 3: IFA Championship clubs

   This strand of the funding will be used to improve the safety provisions at soccer venues of clubs in the IFA championship. A challenge fund principle will apply to any and all projects hoping to take advantage of the funding available from this strand. In total £3 million has been set aside for this strand with a maximum award of £500,000, again a minimum of 20 per cent partnership funding will be required.

Strand 4: National training centre

   The purpose of this strand is to create a purpose built flagship National Training Centre to support current talent and nature future generations. £3 million has been set aside for this project with a minimum of 20 per cent partnership funding required from prospective partners before the project will commence. 

Strand 5: Intermediate and Junior Football

   The purpose of this strand of investment is to develop a single high quality facility that will deliver a key sporting facility for local communities at an intermediate and junior level. DCAL will provide £3 million of funding for this project and once again a minimum of 20 per cent of partnership funding will be required to get the project off the ground.

Reaction

Speaking about the funding announcement, DCAL Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín claimed it marked a watershed moment for the beautiful game. “This is a good day for football in the north,” she said. “The last decade or so has witnessed a marked improvement in the enhancement of stadia following years of historic underinvestment and it is important that a broad range of clubs have the opportunity to benefit.” 

Similarly the Chief Executive of the IFA, Patrick Nelson claimed the announced funding will be regarded as an historic announcement for the future football in Northern Ireland. “With £36 million of investment available, this programme has the potential to revolutionise football here and is a further landmark commitment to the sport following the Executive’s funding of the new National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.

“It is my hope that the research from this consultation period, advocated funding developments at all levels of domestic football and the provision of a new National Training Centre will help inform any decisions that will be made by the Minister in the coming months.”

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