Environment Minister Alex Attwood has this morning announced planning approval for a major new Asda superstore in Derry’s Waterside.
The approval will see Asda build its first supermarket in Derry, adjacent to the Homebase store at Crescent Link Retail Park.
However, in a major setback for a rival supermarket group, Tesco has had two applications for stores in the Buncrana Road area refused by the Minister.
Minister Attwood is in Derry this morning to give his verdict on five major ‘out-of-town’ retail planning decisions.
He also rejected an application by the Orana group for a major new retail development incorporating a Sainsbury’s store on a greenfield site at Crescent Link but indicated that a downsized development - “shaped in the right terms” - may be considered.
Minister Attwood said: “A mixed use scheme - potentially smaller retail, cinema, health facilities and limited office space - may create the wider boost which I know the city could benefit from.” He has asked his planning officials to engage with the applicants to identify if an acceptable scheme can be brought forward.
As well as the refusals for two Tesco stores at Buncrana Road, the Minister also rejected plans for a major retail development at Drumahoe.
The Minister has come under mounting pressure from independent retailers in Derry concerned that any new supermarkets will have a negative impact on businesses in the city centre.
Commenting on the decisions this morning, Sinead McLaughlin, Chief executive of the city’s Chamber, of Commerce said: “It is a relief that we now have certainty regarding some of the out-of-town planning applications. These have been subject to a long running and highly charged debate. The uncertainty has been damaging to investment in the city and region.
“We hope that now that one project has been approved, it will be possible for that scheme to make a very early start on the construction work. Derry needs new jobs and investment. The Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly stressed the need to support the city centre and the traditional Waterside shopping area. We believe that balanced development is required for the city to move on in a sensible and mutually beneficial way.
“We are very aware that the Minister has tried to balance the demands of consumers and large retailers for new shopping areas with the need to protect and improve the city centre environment. It was always obvious that these conflicting demands would mean that not all the proposals would be approved.
“While not everyone will be satisfied with the decisions taken, we urge developers and investors to move ahead where possible. We also hope that greater investment in the city centre will now follow quickly. We urge the Minister to make the outstanding decisions as early as possible in the new year in order to put an end to the continuing uncertainty.
“The Chamber is keen to improve the planning approval process for the future. We urge the Minister to speedily develop legislative planning policy to support town centres and improve the process for considering new retail developments. A Draft Planning Policy Statement 5 was first published in 1996 - this was never adopted by the DoE and after 15 years in draft format it was finally discarded as no longer relevant. It is important the DoE formulate and co-ordinate a policy for securing the orderly and consistent development of land and the planning of that development.”