Ulster Rugby has welcomed the Northern Ireland Environment Minister Alex Attwood’s decision to grant planning permission for redevelopment work at the Ravenhill grounds.
Opened in 1923 and owned by the Irish Rugby Football Union, the Ravenhill grounds had seen little change until 2009 when a new stand was built and the terrace upgraded on the Mount Merrion side.
Drawings to upgrade and redevelop the remaining three sides of the Ravenhill grounds were initially submitted to the planning authorities in August 2010.
In March 2011 it was announced that Ulster Rugby would be granted up to £14.7 million in funding from the Northern Ireland Executive through Sport Northern Ireland, to complete the project.
This latest announcement from Environment Minister Alex Attwood means that Ulster Rugby can now proceed with the project, allowing the organisation to move towards its vision of becoming a major force in European rugby with first class facilities at Ravenhill.
Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Shane Logan said: “A modern, fit-for-purpose and spectator-friendly stadium will enhance Ulster Rugby’s standing and will assist the development of the sport from the grassroots through to international levels.
“On behalf of Ulster Rugby, I would like to express our thanks to Minister Attwood and his officials at the Planning Service.
“I would also like to reiterate our thanks to the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure and Sport Northern Ireland for their assistance with the project to date.
“The development at Ravenhill will not only benefit our sport but will have wider benefits for health, tourism and the Northern Ireland economy and we are privileged to be part of a legacy that will remain in Northern Ireland for years to come.”
The construction work at Ravenhill will take a phased approach and the ground will continue to host matches, albeit it with a slightly reduced capacity, throughout the build. The stands at the Memorial and Aquinas Ends of the ground will be built in the first two phases.
It is planned that the Memorial End stand will provide covered seating for approx 2,500 spectators with terracing for a further 1,350 fans and will house a ticket office, shop, educational centre as well as matchday bar/catering facilities.
The Aquinas End stand will be family-orientated and is planned to provide covered seating for approx 3,200 people. It will also accommodate team changing facilities, medical and treatment rooms, an indoor training surface and matchday media facilities.
Once the stands at the Memorial and Aquinas Ends of the Ravenhill grounds are completed, work will begin on the demolition of the existing stand and construction of a replacement grandstand planned to accommodate approximately 3,200 fans.
The replacement grandstand will also house bar and restaurant facilities. The existing promenade will also be upgraded.
The work will see a planned increase in the capacity of Ravenhill to approximately 18,200, making it capable of hosting a RaboDirect PRO12 final or a Heineken Cup quarter-final match.
“Over the coming months we will be working closely with our Project Board, consisting of representatives from Sport Northern Ireland and the Ulster Branch, who will oversee the project,” confirmed Logan.
“We will be appointing an Independent Consulting Team who will prepare the detailed design and the pre-construction process with an aim to start building towards the end of 2012.”