Anger over planning decision on complex
Tuesday, 3 June 2014
THE decision to give planning permission to a new £47m development on the outskirts of the city has strongly divided opinions.
The project, which is claimed will consolidate Newry's position as "a top cross-border retail hub", will create over 350 construction jobs resulting in £7.1 million in wages, as well as long-term employment for up to 400 people - creating annual wages of £6.9 million. Neil Armstrong, spokesman for the company behind the scheme Hill Partnership, said the project will be on site by late 2014 and job opportunities are "imminent".
The project includes social clauses within its construction contract so that labour and materials will be sourced locally to benefit suppliers and tradesmen in the area.
Mr Armstrong said the project has been supported throughout the planning process by Newry and Mourne District Council, with no political party voting against the scheme.
“The Hill Partnership has been working closely with planners, the Council and residents in the area to ensure that this major investment has a positive impact on the city of Newry and its people," he said.
“We have been working for over five years to deliver this scheme for the people of Newry. The initial plans for this scheme received a letter of support from Newry and Mourne District Council in May 2009. Following a meeting with planners during the planning process we took a decision to reduce the scale of the project in order to sustain the vibrancy of the city centre.
“We removed the office blocks, and the leisure elements, which included a cinema and five restaurants, and scaled it back significantly to address any possible concerns relating to the city centre.
“We then went back to Newry and Mourne District Council with the revised plans and sought a letter of support from local councillors. The letter of support proposal was put to councillors and it was agreed to send a further letter of support. This scheme has always had the support of the Council."
Mr Armstrong has said the foodstore, which is believed to be Asda, has signed up to a Local Employment Partnership Agreement which assists the long-term unemployed find work.
The project will also include the construction of 14 houses and 70 business units, as Mr Armstrong explained: "Housing is a key element of this scheme and we were always keen to have this included in the development as there is a significant housing need in Newry as its young population grows.
“There is high demand for low-cost starter units in the city and we are keen to discuss the possibility of working with the local Enterprise Agency to ensure we assist in meeting the small business start-up needs in Newry to help grow the local economy over the coming years."
SDLP MLAs Karen McKevitt and Dominic Bradley have welcomed planning approval for the development which they said will boost the construction industry.
Ms McKevitt said: "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.
“It is also good news for entrepreneurs and for smaller businesses that will have the opportunity to avail of units and, for some, grow their businesses. When complete, it will hopefully add to the number of shoppers that are attracted to Newry, which will have positive knock-on effects for the local retail sector, and in turn helps the economy of whole community.
“Newry already has outstanding shopping facilities and this development will complement the diverse range of existing retail outlets, which will benefit local consumers, those from across the north and further afield."
Mr Bradley said project will be a timely boost for the local construction industry, adding: "The SDLP, along with Newry & Mourne District Council, has supported this application all along. It strengthens Newry's position as an important retail hub.
“The 70 industrial/business units will be very welcome and will help Newry's SMEs to continue to grow. The 14 residential units will also help to ease the housing situation in Newry."
However the news has not been welcomed by Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade which said it is "shocked and dismayed" at the decision to approve planning application.
Deborah Loughran, president of the Chamber, said: "The local retail environment has changed dramatically over recent years. Global trading conditions and changing consumer habits have created a challenging environment for our retailers resulting in vacant units scattered throughout the city. Imposing this outrageous decision on the Newry business community has the potential to decimate our city centre.
“This decision and indeed the Minister's assertion that he is 'confident the town centre can compete' completely contravenes his own Planning Policy Statement on Town Centres First, dated as recently as February 2014. There are numerous development sites within Newry city centre where this development could have been located. This site is not zoned for a retail food store and for the Minister to grant approval of this out of town site flies in the face of his own policies and departmental guidelines."
Also opposing the development, Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy, said: "It's outside of the town boundaries and it will simply displace jobs which are currently located in Newry, further sucking life out of our city centre.
“There is ample vacant retail property within the boundaries of Newry town centre which could be utilised instead of this new development. In fact redevelopment within our city centre could have great potential to further reinvigorate and reenergise city centre shopping.
“I will be seeking a meeting with Minister Durkan to query the granting of this planning permission which would seem to fly in the face of his own department's 'Town Centre First' policy.
“I am surprised, considering the Minister's opinion that this is good news for Newry, that he did not make the announcement in advance of last week's local government elections. I contend that this is a bad news story for Newry and that this planning should not have been granted."
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