Sports fans are being urged to make their voices heard over plans for a multi-million pound redevelopment at Larne’s Inver Park.
Larne Football Club is hoping for a share in a £17m funding pot, which has been set aside by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) for investment in subregional football grounds across Northern Ireland.
Inver Park is one of 15 grounds in Northern Ireland entitled to apply for a slice of the funding, with a maximum of £3m per venue.
The cash boost would represent a vital lifeline for the financially struggling Championship One outfit, transforming the stadium into a modern and sustainable facility.
Larne FC has already secured planning permission for its proposed redevelopment, which is estimated to cost in the region of £4m. The plans would see a 3g pitch laid at the ground, the creation of new 1,100 seater stand and changing facilities, and a new all-weather training facility covered by a large dome.
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has announced a 12 week public consultation on the funding plans.
And chief executive of Larne FC, Mervyn McKay has called on local people to lend their support to the project by taking part in the consultation process.
Mr McKay said: “The redevelopment of Inver Park is not just important for the future of Larne FC, but for sports clubs throughout the local area. Inver Park, like many grounds in the Irish League, is sorely in need of a makeover. This much-needed funding boost would allow us to bring our ground up to standard and transform it into a facility that can sit at the heart of the local sporting community.”
The DCAL funding programme requires all applicants to have partnership funding in place. To that end, Larne FC intends to put forward its business case to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
“We will be making a presentation to the local authority early next year, outlining our plans for the future of the club and the facilities at Inver Park,” Mr McKay added.
“We feel we have a strong business case and hopefully the council will agree to back us in bringing this project to fruition.”
East Antrim MLA Gordon Lyons, who has been lobbying the DCAL Minister on the issue of stadium investment, welcomed the launch of the consultation this week.
He added: “This is something that I had been asking her to do for weeks and I am pleased that we have received further information.
“Inver Park is in need of investment and I hope that it will get the funding required for the necessary improvements to take place. Fantastic works goes on there, especially among young people and I will be working with Larne Football Club and other representatives to ensure that the strong case for further investment is made.
“The Minister’s proposals are out to consultation and I would encourage people to have their say.”
Speaking during Question Times in the Assembly on Monday, Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said: “This is an excellent opportunity for those involved in soccer to develop their facilities as a means of improving the viability of soccer at the subregional level. I am delighted that the programme will also contribute to promoting equality and tackling social exclusion.”
The consultation document is now available on the DCAL website (www.dcalni.gov.uk) and will run until February 22, 2016. It is open to anyone who wishes to respond.