WARWICKSHIRE Gaelic Athletics Association has vowed to battle to save its Bickenhill home – one of Britain’s main GAA grounds – following plans to build an M42 relief road through the heart of its pitches.
Highways England is planning a relief road from the M42 to the A45 to avoid congestion at the NEC junction – particularly when the HS2 interchange and associated developments are constructed.
But the preferred option – Option 1 of three – would see the relief road plough through the very heart of the GAA headquarters – Páirc na hÉireann (Field of Ireland) – off Catherine de Barnes Lane.
Options 2 and 3 would steer to the east of the site, but would be closer to residential areas of Bickenhill – hence the preference to route it over the agricultural land closer to the airport and behind Birmingham Dogs Home.
The Birmingham grounds cater for Warwickshire GAA’s 3,000 members and are the primary regional facility for provincial GAA with 15,000 members participating in tournaments throughout the year.
A decision is expected in May or June.
If option 1 is given the go-ahead it would see the Compulsory Purchase of the GAA site, with talk of a possible relocation to nearby land unaffected by the relief road.
This would, however, cause massive disruption for the club and could see it forced to temporarily relocate to grounds/pitches elsewhere in the region – many of which are not suitable as the pitch size for gaelic football is the size of one-and-a-half football pitches.
Speaking to the Observer this week, GAA Warwickshire County Chairman Mark McLoughlin said the club would fight any plans to move it.
“We are desperately hoping Highways England will choose one of the other options for the relief road and leave our fantastic club alone, but we are fearful this isn’t going to be the case,” he added.
“If we are forced to relocate – even if it is to land nearby, we will still be landed with a lengthy period without a proper home and will be forced to share facilities elsewhere.
“But this is simply not acceptable.
“We have so many people using the club it would be massively disruptive to relocate and to groundshare in the meantime – especially as we need much larger pitches than traditional football pitches for Gaelic football.”
Mr McLoughlin added that GAA gas never been more popular in Britain so the timing could not be worse.
He said: “Páirc na hÉireann has become a pillar of the local and provincial community, over 50 years it has become the premier GAA site in Britain.
“We get boys and girls from the age of six playing at our facility every week who have no other access to green spaces.”
The club – which is home to Gaelic Football, Hurling and Comogie (female hurling) – has taken the fight to Westminster and has also spoken to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin and the GAA executive board in Croke Park.
The immediate aim for Warwickshire GAA is to raise awareness of what is at stake for British GAA should Páirc na hÉireann be demolished.
Mr McLoughlin urged people to follow developments on Warwickshire County’s website and via social media.