A multi-million pound football centre of excellence could be established at Threemilewater Playing Fields, the Times can reveal.
It’s understood the council is in talks with Crusaders FC about the possibility of developing new sports facilities at the Bridge Road site near Monkstown.
A confidential report on the issue was discussed by councillors at their monthly meeting on Tuesday night (August 26).
While the content of the report hasn’t yet been made public, the Times understands that the Shore Road club and the local authority are in discussions about the possibility of striking up a partnership that could see the gravel pitches at the council-owned playing fields transformed as part of a major redevelopment that would cater for football and other sports.
It’s thought the project could include construction of a 3G pitch with a 250-seater enclosure, suitable for hosting women’s, intermediate and junior football, as well as a multi-sports area and associated changing facilities.
“The club could potentially have access to very significant funding from DCAL (the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure) that the council wouldn’t have access to, so this could be an opportunity for the council and the club to work together to redevelop the rarely-used gravel pitches and provide a centre of excellence and a community facility,” a council source told the Times. “It would be a multi-million pound development with a 3G pitch that could be used by the club and the local community. They (Crusaders) have a good fan base in Newtownabbey and it would make sense for them to have more of a presence in the area.
“We have the land, and if they can get the funding I would like to see the site developed, subject to a whole host of issues being resolved.”
The source stressed that the project would not involve the club moving from its current home ground, Seaview.
Another source within the council added: “The club could have access to a significant pot of government funding, so they may well be looking at development opportunities. They are looking at Threemilewater, but it may not be the only site they are looking at.”
One councillor, who didn’t want to be identified, said that due to the scale of the proposal and the amount of money involved, the issue may have to be brought before the new Antrim and Newtownabbey Council for consideration.
Speaking on behalf of Crusaders FC, Mark Langhammer said: “The forthcoming round of DCAL stadia funding, aimed at NI Football League clubs, offers an opportunity for club/council partnerships. The Threemilewater site in Newtownabbey offers potential, but we are at an early stage of exploring with the council and it would be too early to say whether a scheme ‘has legs’ or not. With great uncertainty around welfare reform, it is not self evident that the DCAL funding stream will survive budget reallocations. We will have to wait and see.”
It’s understood that around 60 per cent of Crusaders’ members come from the Newtownabbey area, and the club already has links with local women’s team Newtownabbey Strikers.