Planning permission for a replacement of the main stand at Larne Football Club was approved unanimously at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Planning Committee on Thursday morning.
The application also includes a new social club, shop and fan zone as well as an administration hub and carpark.
The council’s Head of Planning, Paul Duffy, said that the proposed upgrade was necessary to “enable Larne FC to host category three UEFA matches”.
The application will enable provision for a covered, tiered seated stand which can accommodate 2,000 spectators. It is part of the club’s regeneration plan and IFA requirements for spectators to be seated.
Mr Duffy said that the Department for Community’s Historic Environment Divison (HED) had expressed concerns over the impact of the proposed new stand.
HED’s Historic Buildings Branch advised planners that it was concerned about the “impact of the replacement stand on the setting of the listed buildings in the vicinity – St Cedma’s Church and Inver War Memorial.
The recommendation by planners to approve was against the advice of HED.
Mr Duffy went on to say that Larne FC was established in 1889 and has been located at Inver Park for 100 years.
He added that the development proposal has received 21 letters and two petitions of support and planners have concluded that concerns do not outweigh the benefits of the proposals.
Gemma Jobling, of Jobling Planning and Environment, told the meeting that the proposal represents the next phase of investment in the stadium to provide a “much-needed upgrade” to the main stand as well as meeting UEFA criteria.
She also spoke of its importance of health and safety and visitor experience and a wish to provide a much-needed community facility for the people of Larne, adding that the development represents “considerable economic investment”.
She also noted “overwhelming support” for the application and a “high level of engagement” throughout the community consultation.
Larne Lough councillor Alderman Paul Reid commented: “It is somewhat annoying that HED do not come to this chamber to justify anything they say.”
He asked if there had been any complaints from the church.
Mr Duffy stated that he was “not aware of any”.
“They have not raised any objections to the current application,” he said.
Ald Reid commented: “HED has raised this as a problem but there is no problem. There is absolutely no problem on the ground.”
Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Robert Logan said: “HED seems to take these decisions based on what they can see on a plan rather than going out and having a look at the situation.
“Because of the topography, I do not think it causes anybody any offence at all.”
Knockagh Alliance councillor Alderman Noel Williams described the application as a “positive step forward” as the council is keen to encourage outstanding facilities at all three football grounds in Mid and East Antrim.
Ald Williams said: “Within Mid and East Antrim Council, we have a MEA Utd group working with our three Irish League football teams and Department for Communities.
“We are keen to encourage outstanding facilities at all three grounds and towns. This is a positive step on that pathway and I wholeheartedly support the recommendation of the officers.”
Ald Reid added: “I am quite happy to propose we accept the officers’ recommendation. This is good news for Larne and good news for Larne FC.
“Hopefully we can get Tottenham in the next round at Inver Park,” he joked.
Seconding the proposal, Cllr Logan said that it was good news and a “real shot in the arm for Larne”.
Last month, plans for a new 600-seater terrace at Larne FC were also approved by the Planning Committee.
The proposal is for a replacement terrace on the site of the long-established ‘east’ stand to provide a new tiered seated area under a canopy as well as a treatment room, new VIP lounge with first floor extension and alterations to changing rooms to provide a players’ area.