By Damian Dolan
The redevelopment of Páirc na hÉireann will take the GAA in Warwickshire to a “different level”, says its county board chairperson Michael Collins.
Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council’s (SMBC) planning committee last week (11 August) voted unanimously in favour of plans put forward by Highways England for a new state-of-the-art facility at the ground, which is located just off Catherine de Barnes Lane in Solihull, Birmingham.
Work has already commenced on the site and is scheduled to be completed in 2023.
Once finished, Páirc na hÉireann – the home of the GAA in Warwickshire and Britain – will be “one of the finest facilities outside of Ireland”.
“You’d be proud to host any match at that facility,” Mr Collins told the Irish World.
“We’ll be able to offer a top-class modern facility to underage players, and players coming over from Ireland.
“This is going to be a centre of excellence and something for the Gaels of Warwickshire and Britain to be extremely proud of.”
Mr Collins said the facility will be “invaluable” in helping to grow the GAA within Warwickshire.
“If you show people professional facilities, it gives a mind-set that we’re a very well-run organisation,” he added.
The redevelopment is part of the M42 Improvement Scheme, which will see a £282m relief road run directly through one of the current pitches at Páirc na hÉireann, which is located on greenbelt land.
The new facility is funded by Highways England as part of a proportionate configuration scheme.
It will comprise three pitches, including one full-size all-weather surface, a new modern sports pavilion with eight dressing rooms, including two of inter-county size, and car parking for 100 vehicles.
Conor McGinn MP, Chair of the All Party Group on the Irish in Britain and prominent GAA member, said: “This is great news for the GAA in Britain and for the Irish community in the West Midlands.
“These new facilities will ensure our games can continue to thrive, especially at grassroots level in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry.
“We had really strong cross-party support in the region for the GAA, with Conservative Mayor Andy Street, local MP Saqib Bhatti, former Transport Minister John Spellar MP and Labour MP Jack Dromey all getting behind our efforts.”
Warwickshire GAA had been locked in discussions with Highways England and council authorities since early 2017. The intervening years have seen a number of “false dawns”.
In March, the council’s planning committee voted to defer the application over to a number of concerns, one of which was the proposed design of the new clubhouse.
It was scheduled to go back before the committee on 14 July, but was withdrawn due to a technicality.
Mr Collins admitted that last week’s outcome was a “relief”, as a further deferment, or rejection, would have left Warwickshire GAA facing an uncertain future.
“There was a huge amount of pressure on us to get this over the line or we’d have been in a horrendous position, because they (Highways England) were going in there this morning (12 August) regardless of the outcome,” he said.
Under the community use agreement, a stipulation of the application, the role of Páirc na hÉireann within the local community in Solihull will increase further.
“We look forward to engaging with the community. We’ve already spoken to a local secondary school and they’ve expressed an interest in using it as their sports ground,” said Mr Collins.
Warwickshire GAA has also been in contact with two local football clubs.
“It could also provide an extremely useful revenue scheme in the GAA going forwards, that we can reinvest in games development within the county,” said Mr Collins.
For the next 12 months, Warwickshire GAA will effectively be operating within a “construction site”.
The ground will operate two pitches for the remainder of this season.
It’s expected that the new all-weather pitch will be ready in time for the start of the 2022 season, and the clubhouse by early 2023.
“But we’ve certainty at the end of it,” emphasised Mr Collins.
“It’s a weight off our shoulders and now we can start planning a way forward, instead of spending hours and hours every week arguing our point and trying to garner support.’
Former underage Warwickshire GAA stars, England and Man City footballer Jack Grealish and ex-boxer Matthew Macklin, both recently backed the plans for the redevelop of Páirc na hÉireann.
“It was time consuming and energy sapping, but worth it,” added Mr Collins.