New Balmoral site starts to take shape

Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons

WITH just 11 weeks until the first Balmoral Show takes place at the new Maze site, RUAS chief executive Colin McDonald has said it will take a generation before the full development of the whole site is realised.

Earlier this week a number of journalists were taken inside the site to see the work that has been carried out so far ahead of this year’s show from 15th to 17th May.

With a substantial amount of ground work already completed, the main arena – the focal point for the showgrounds – has been sown out and several of the show rings are also starting to take shape.

While a number of major shows took a hit last year due to the particularly wet summer, all eventualities are being planned for at Balmoral Park.

Mr McDonald continued: “What a showman wants is hard standing so that the show will never wash out – that is a key feature of this site. The Great Yorkshire Show lost £1.5m last year whenever it had to cancel after being flooded out and the Royal Highland show also had to spend £400,000 as a result of the wet weather.

“There were 32 agricultural shows throughout Great Britain and Ireland that were cancelled last year due to the bad weather. The Balmoral Show will never be cancelled because of this.”

Mr McDonald said another key feature of the site is the public parking area which amounts to 45 acres of hard standing for car parking.

“This site, the history of it, has a lot of baggage with what happened in the recent past but the past before, the World War Two past whenever this was called RAF Long Kesh, is more interesting. There are two listed building hangers near the site and the development plan (for the Maze) involves a key part in the story for the World War Two aircraft heritage,” he added.

“The aircraft hangers are significant to our thinking too because 1963 was the first time the RUAS attempted to buy this site. There were two that they looked at – one was RAF Aldergrove and the other one was this one – RAF Long Kesh - and the reason for RAF Long Kesh was because it abuts the motorway. So the thinking hasn’t changed in 50 years, it has just taken 50 years to get it done.”

Mr McDonald described the Maze site as ‘absolutely huge’. It is twice as big as Titanic Quarter and four times the size of Canary Wharf.

“The prospect of developing it all is huge. It’s not going to happen overnight – you are talking about a generation to do the development here,” said Mr McDonald.

The existing H blocks on the 65 acre Balmoral Park site have been demolished and all the rubble has been recycled and used as aggregate while the showgrounds are being developed around the original runways.

The site will be carbon neutral with an eco park consisting of wind turbines, PV and a biomass co-op.

The first semi-permanent building to arrive on site will be the King’s Hall pavilions which will be moved over a three month period from the Kings Hall site in summer 2014.

Some 24,000 square metres of canvas will be available for this year’s show – five times the size of the King’s Hall and Nugent Hall put together. The cattle accommodation will be inside a huge marquee measuring 175 metres by 40 metres. The first Winter Fair will be held on the site in December 2014.

Mr McDonald explained: “The designers of this showground have done one thing which has never been done before. Arenas are typically stuck at the back of showgrounds but here the arena is up close and personal to the entrance. The first thing you see when you enter the showgrounds is the arena.”

He said this would give flexibility on how they operate the showgrounds.

“The showgrounds will be as big as it wants to be or as small as it wants to be – it will always be focused on the arena at the front.”

There will be five external gates allowing access to the site, and details of these will be given to exhibitors well in advance of the show in May. A new road will be constructed in 2015 linking the site onto the M1 at junction 8.

Mr McDonald said the plan of the RUAS is to have Balmoral Park as ‘a hive of activity’.

“The society when it looked at two sites - one was at Hillsborough and one was here – looked at the issue of the former prison and ‘is this going to be a problem for us’. But I was delighted when it was the opposite of that. The Society said we can actually do something and turn this part of our troubled past into something positive and that is one of the reasons why they plumped for this site.

“We genuinely believe the Society has the ability to pump prime a rural centre of excellence. We think that if we create activity here others will come and indeed some agricultural businesses are thinking about the Maze site already.

“Our vision of it is that it will be like a science park for agriculture. If we can create this hub of agricultural activity other things will come. Every centre has to have a focus or something that will cause people to come to it.”

Mr McDonald said he also believed the development will be the driver of economic activity for Lisburn and he praised Lisburn council, the Chamber of Commerce and businesses in the area for their support for the project.