Future of city centre on agenda

The retail planning strategy for the city was discussed at a meeting of Derry City Council's planning committee this week.

Officials from the planning service told local councillors that the main aim of the strategy is to protect Derry's city centre.

John Cummings, manager of the strategic planning division of the Planning Service, told members that there are currently seven major applications for out-of-town shopping developments in the system.

The applications include plans submitted by major food retailers; Adsa, Tesco, and Sainsbury's.

He also said there are a number of applications in the system for sites where an anchor tenant has not yet been identified.

Councillors from all parties welcomed the presentation and said the retail strategy must address the demand for out-of-town shopping as well as the concerns of city centre traders.

DUP alderman Joe Miller said; "The first thing I notice is the number of people who want to put money into our city. I think it would be mad to turn down money coming in at a time of economic downturn. To some degree Planning Service are running behind people's needs.

"We all want to protect the city centre but does going a mile outside the city centre make it less attractive to planners? Perhaps we could consider an inner and outer city centre."

Sinn Fin councillor Paul Fleming asked if new draft guidelines will make a difference to how planning applications are processed.

"We all want to see our economy growing and stores going in to different areas. How will draft PPS5 impact on major applications fore here?" he asked.

SDLP councillor Helen Quigley warned that planning legislation could be hampering efforts to stimulate the economy. "I think there is a major flaw in this policy. It appears that draft PPS5 could be subject to a judicial review. That has to be detrimental to our society given that the Northern Ireland Executive's number one priority is the economy. It is being handicapped by this kind of legislation," she said.

The former mayor also raised concerns about Derry City Council's own retail strategy. "We have gone through consultation and drawn up a retail strategy for the city. Does that have any strength? Have we gone through a process for the last two of three years that is now meaningless?" she asked .

Mr Cummings told colr Quigley that the Planning Service could not give the Council's strategy as much weighting as their own policies.