Retailers and business leaders in a Northern Ireland city are demanding a judicial review of a decision to allow a superstore less than two miles from a thriving high street.
Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade had pressed for a public inquiry into Hill Partnership’s plans for a multi-million development just outside the city at Carnbane Way. The 37-acre scheme includes a mix of 70 industrial and business units, 14 residential units and an Asda foodstore.
Supported by the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Association (NIIRTA), the chamber claims the decision by environment minister Mark H Durkan (pictured, front) to grant the development full planning permission was “absolutely absurd” and a U-turn on the Government’s strategy of putting “a town centre first” before large retail applications.
Other objections to the scheme were lodged by Newry and Mourne District Council and Newry City Centre Management. The minister was also presented with a 1,200-plus signature “Newry First” petition asking him to back existing businesses.
Justifying his green light as “right” for Newry, the minister said he was satisfied the “potential economic benefit of the development and the proposed measures to mitigate and enhance the landscape and heritage value of the overall site, outweigh the potential retail impact on the city centre”.
“Newry city centre is recognised as a strong shopping centre that benefits from its close proximity to the Republic of Ireland,” he added.
“The Government’s Town centre first approach was not”, he added, “a moratorium on all out of town retail-led development. Each application is treated on its merits and I believe that economically and environmentally this is the right decision.”
Hill’s application had quoted a “scientific” survey by Lucid Talk which claimed that almost 96 per cent of people from the area where in favour of the out-of-town development.
In a joint statement, Deborah Loughran, president of Newry chamber and NIIRTA chief executive, Glyn Roberts, said they were left in no doubt the development would have a “devastating impact” on Newry city centre.
“It was not long ago that both the minister and his party were championing a town centre first approach to large retail applications,” they said. “As the minister has now totally rejected any compromise, we have no choice but to consider seeking a judicial review.”
The ministerial decision was welcomed, however, by both local Northern Ireland Assembly members. Karen McKevitt said: “Construction of the project is expected to bring at least 300 jobs for the construction sector. As we all know, the construction industry has been through a rough few years and is still recovering. These jobs will be good news for many in the sector who have been out of work.”
A spokesman for the Essex-based Hill Partnership said the decision was “excellent news for Newry and the surrounding area in terms of the employment opportunities”. He would not comment on the prospects of a judicial review.
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