Down GAA’s ambitious plans to open a new £5 million training centre of excellence – at the former Ballykinler Army base – have taken a major step forward.
Proposals for the scheme have now been submitted to Newry, Mourne and Down District Council for consideration.
The development plans will go on show to the public this week during the statutory consultation process.
The new centre will include four full size GAA pitches – three of them with floodlights and all with spectator seating.
The proposals also include a multi-use games area.
And, of course, the centre of excellence will have the required changing room accommodation, as welll as a fitness studio and offices.
Both car and coach parking will be provided on site, with 353 and five dedicated spaces respectively.
The scene will see pedestrian access provided via Marian Park, and there will be new access arrangements, landscaping and associated site works.
According to a design and access statement Down GAA has over 25,000 members playing Gaelic Games and participating in GAA activities across the county.
But the five-times All-Ireland winners have depended on the good nature of clubs and schools for training facilities.
The statement points out: “Down GAA has not had a home that it can call its own. This development at Ballykinlar will allow Down GAA for the first time in its history to have a centre it can call its own.”
And it adds: “The project aims to provide a state-of-the-art complex to cater for the further development of Down GAA, both at a player/coaching level and administrative level. Simultaneously, the projects aims to improve community provision in the Ballykinlar area.”
The planned development was first mooted back in 2017.
It takes in the ground and clubhouse currently used by Ballykinlar GAC, which opened in 1956 but is described as being “outdated and no longer compliant with current standards”.
It also incorporates the site of the former military base, which was under the ownership of the Ministry of Defence but for which a long-term lease arrangement has been agreed.
An options appraisal saw Down GAA opt for one which would include three buildings – by retaining the existing pavilion, together with an extension; with additional facilities provided in a new complex building – including museum, office space, canteen and player facilities – and a MUGA building, with 3G synthetic grass surface. There would also be four pitches on site.
In addition, a shop and ticket booth are incorporated.
The new centre – according to the design and access statement – will allow for community use too and will be “inclusive for all members of the community regardless of age, disability, ethnicity or social grouping”.
Ballykinler Army Barracks was built back in 1901. It has had many military-based uses over the years, including as a UDR training centre throughout the 1970s and 80s. The last battalion based at Ballykinlar moved out five years ago.
According to the statement with council: “The new centre will transform the site and result in substantial physical and aesthetic improvements to the site and the wider area.”
The application will be publicly advertised this week with a decision expected in due course.