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Stormont Estate

Part of Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:15 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance 7:15 pm, 19th January 2016

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the use of the Stormont estate. Parliament Buildings is iconic in Northern Ireland and internationally. Indeed, the surrounding estate is beautifully managed and kept. I, too, pay tribute to the staff in Parliament Buildings and on the Stormont estate for the hard work and excellence that they bring to this place.

The Stormont estate belongs to the public, and I believe that, as stewards of the Assembly, it is our responsibility to maximise the public benefit of it for everyone in our community.

Stormont estate has significant potential. It has significant economic and tourism potential. We have seen a number of world-class events associated with Stormont estate. I think of the Giro d'Italia in 2014. I remember lining the route of the competition. What a world-class event that was hosted in the estate and what an atmosphere it generated not only here in Belfast but right across the community. We had the Crashed Ice event and international concerts. I think that, as other Members set out, whilst it is important that we seek to host events of that scale, it is also important that we keep paramount the concern for the amenity of the local community and residents in the surrounding area when delivering those events.

Stormont estate has huge civic potential. There has been a wide range of charitable events on the estate. I think of Runher and Run in the Dark, as well as a running event that I had the privilege to sponsor for Chest, Heart and Stroke and Strandtown Primary School. I thank Principal McClenaghan for agreeing to run round with me in that particular event. I think that he had to slow down significantly. My running pace is not what it used to be. There has also been the Strive for Five by the Square Wheels Cycle Club, which is based in Moy and undertakes an Atlantic-coast-to-Titanic-coast cycle that has finished at Stormont estate on a number of occasions and aims to raise awareness and funds for Diabetes UK.

Stormont estate also has significant community benefit potential through a wide range of events that encourage community and volunteering activity. It was a privilege of mine to play a very small part in helping to establish parkrun on the Stormont estate. I pay tribute to volunteers like Mel Boyle and the parkrun staff, who were able to establish an all-ability opportunity for people in the local community to engage in a 5 km run every Saturday morning here in Stormont estate. Parkrun is a free weekly 5 km timed run that is open to everyone. It is safe, easy and fun to take part in. It has real health benefits. It encourages volunteering and community cohesion. I was glad to be joined by Máirtín Ó Muilleoir at the inaugural event in August last year. It really is a great way to have fun, get healthy and meet new people. I think it is only right that Stormont estate facilitates that type of event for our local community.

On 16 January last, there were 172 participants in the Stormont estate parkrun. It is my understanding that, on New Year's Day, a new record for parkrun in Northern Ireland was set when there were over 500 runners participating in that particular event. I commend the vision of the now retired, I believe, Stormont estate manager, Sam McCready, for the work that he did with the parkrun staff and volunteers to permit that type of event to take place and to showcase the potential of the Stormont estate. I commend the new estate management team, which, I believe, is providing ongoing valuable assistance to ensure that the success of Stormont estate parkrun continues. I understand that there are a few park runners on the estate management team. I am grateful for the ongoing work in that regard.

There are many other assets to Stormont estate. The Mo Mowlam children's playground has been mentioned. I confess to making use of that playground regularly with my own children and to perhaps getting too involved and enjoying the facilities more than I should. I also think of the reconciliation and reflection zone on Stormont estate. I know that many church groups come to Stormont estate to reflect and pray for the health and well-being of the Government here and of our community.

I think also of the Pavilion facility, which is associated with the Northern Ireland Civil Service Sports Association, and of the PlayBall facility, which opens up Stormont estate for sporting potential for people across the community and which has hosted international world-class cricket match events. It is my understanding that that organisation is in need of assistance from the Department of Finance and Personnel to ensure that that aspect of the Stormont estate is as accessible as possible to the public, particularly from the Upper Newtownards Road entrance. Hopefully, the Minister can commit to work on that, given the good positive working relationship that the estate management team has contributed to a wide range of provision on the estate.

In conclusion, the Stormont estate has significant economic, tourist, community, health and sporting potential on a local, regional and international level. My party and I are wholly committed to contributing everything that we can to realise that potential and to ensure that we maximise the public benefit of the estate for everyone in our community.