The Head of Community Development and Leisure then provided Members with an update on all of the options available for works required at Melvin Arena to ensure compliance with the Irish Football Association’s (IFA’s) Championship/Premier Intermediate League Criteria. He stated that in addition, correspondence had been received from concerned residents who had set up a steering group in order to receive updates or proposed changes regarding the long term proposals. He stated that they expressed concerns particularly regarding parking and also the lack of consultation on the matter. He stated that officers would engage with residents once a recommendation had been agreed upon.
The Mayor thanked the Head of Community Development and Leisure for presenting the report in such a short timescale.
Councillor Gallagher stated that he appreciated the turnaround for the report had been very short. He then sought clarification regarding the spectator capacity and stated that 500 may have a negative impact on the report as the criteria had specified a spectator stand with a capacity for 200. He stated that negotiations had been taking place for some time with the local GAA club who had agreed that Strabane Athletic Football Club could use their grounds, however this was omitted from the report. He referred to the concerns raised regarding car parking and stated that there would only be an impact if the 500 capacity spectator stand was recommended. He indicated that Strabane Athletic had engaged with other users of Melvin Arena who had agreed to facilitate the process of obtaining a spectator stand. He proposed that an emergency site meeting take place at Melvin Arena and Pitch involving all user groups and stakeholders with a view to supplying the spectator stand and to ensure that the criteria meets IFA standard.
Continuing, Councillor Gallagher stated that the Strabane Athletic Football Club had received a number of quotes in respect of a spectator stand which were considerably cheaper than that stated within the report. He stated that a site meeting would put Members in a better position to make a decision.
In response to a query by Alderman McClintock, the Mayor stated that a planning application had not been submitted regarding the matter under discussion therefore there was no need to make a declaration of interest.
Councillor P Kelly thanked officers for the report which had been put together very quickly. He referred to the car parking issue and advised of spaces available at the Upper Main Street car park located a few hundred yards from Melvin and also the GAA car park. He suggested that Council look at options to purchase a spectator stand as it would be cheaper and therefore less of a burden on ratepayers. He stated that it was his understanding that the spectator capacity of 500 included the entire arena and not for seated spectators. He concurred with Councillor Gallagher that a meeting be held as soon as possible to have the matter resolved.
In response, the Head of Community Development and Leisure stated that IFA criteria stated that the ground must have a maximum capacity of 500 to include 200 seated with a number of disability compliant seats with a terrace. He outlined that a planning application would have to be submitted based on 500 spectators. He stated that in terms of the cost and the nugatory expenditure, the initial stand and hiring of the stand would be less than £30,000 with additional erection and dismantling costs on a fortnightly basis. He advised that further infrastructure also had to be in place such as toilet facilities, a control room, changing facilities and substantial works would have to be carried out to meet IFA criteria along with planning regulations including car parking. He then advised that different options would have to be considered in respect of purchasing a spectator stand. He outlined that if rented the price would be maintained at under £30,000, however to purchase may go over that amount. He added that in addition, if a decision was made to purchase a stand, public advertising would be required, therefore the ground would not be ready in time to meet IFA criteria.
Councillor Tierney thanked officers for compiling the report in such a timely manner. He queried what level of engagement officers have had with user groups as Councillor Gallagher had referred to agreements that had been put in place to mitigate some of the concerns that had been raised. He stated that an emergency site meeting was important to outline the process and how a conclusion would be reached.
Councillor McMahon also thanked staff who put together a very comprehensive report and stated that there may be elements still be added. He stated that the focus at the previous meeting was to obtain a spectator stand for Strabane Athletic Football Club, however after looking at all of the factors for consideration in the report, it was obvious of the considerable amount of work still to be carried out. He stated that no matter how much was spent, if the facility did not meet the criteria set out by the IFA it was worth nothing. He added that he concurred with the previous speakers and supported the proposal for an urgent site meeting and asked that the site meeting be arranged for the afternoon so he could attend.
Alderman Hussey concurred with the remarks made by the previous speaker. He stated that when he had attended a meeting of the club he was under the impression that some of the issues contained within the report had been resolved. He stated that it was a major project and that recommendation 5.2 combined with the proposal for an on-site meeting was required. He felt that the kingpin in the matter was the importance of the football league being in attendance at the site meeting. He added that it was important to note the other clubs throughout the City and District who may subsequently request similar support.
Alderman Thompson stated that he had previously been involved with Football Clubs throughout the City and District in their development and understood the amount of work required to meet the stipulations set out by a football association. He concurred with the proposal, however it was important to ensure that all relevant parties were present to determine a way forward.
The Mayor stated that from his experience at Derry City Football Club this would be a very complicated process for Melvin Arena and Pitch.
Councillor Gallagher Proposed, Seconded by Councillor P Kelly
That this Council arrange an urgent site meeting to take place at Melvin Arena and Pitch involving all user groups and stakeholders with a view to supplying the spectator stand and to ensure that the criteria meets IFA standard and a further report be brought forward as required following additional clarifications from NIFL, statutory bodies and the views of stakeholder groups and residents.
After voting by a show of hands the result was unanimous and Council
Resolved That this Council arrange an urgent site meeting to take place at Melvin Arena and Pitch involving all user groups and stakeholders with a view to supplying the spectator stand and to ensure that the criteria meets IFA standard and a further report be brought forward as required following additional clarifications from NIFL, statutory bodies and the views of stakeholder groups and residents.
The Mayor left the meeting at this point and Alderman Hussey, Deputy Mayor took the Chair.