Attwood warned of city centre ‘meltdown’

Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of NIIRTA
Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of NIIRTA

DoE Minister Alex Attwood has been left in no doubt as to the level of opposition among local retailers to out-of-town shopping centres.

The Planning Minister was in Derry for talks with local retailers who have warned that Derry’s city centre, along with other established shopping districts across the city, faces potential meltdown if proposals for major retail projects on the outskirts of the city are given the go-ahead.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), the City Centre Traders Forum and other business interests from across the city met with Minister Attwood on Friday.

The meeting was, according to Glyn Roberts, chief executive of NIIRTA, “constructive” and one in which both the minister and retailers engaged in a “frank exchange of views.”

The meeting took place as planners consider a series of applications for out-of-town developments.

Among them are a 33,000 sq. ft. Asda store at Drumahoe, a 42,000 sq. ft Sainsbury’s store at Crescent Link and Tesco’s bid to expand its store at Lisnagelvin.

Glyn Roberts said of Friday’s meeting: “Mr. Attwood was left in no doubt that, if these proposals are given planning permission, they will take millions of pounds from Derry’s independent traders and destroy hundreds of jobs in an already struggling commercial district.

“We also made it clear that we are not in any way anti-multiple supermarket. Our concern is that the out of town locations being sought by the applicants would give them an unfair competitive advantage over other retailers in the city centre and elsewhere. We would prefer them to locate in the city centre where they would increase footfall and add to the overall retail offer.

“It should also be stressed that the locations of these proposed stores will contribute nothing to Derry’s city centre and will only draw away footfall and displace and destroy existing retail jobs.

“It’s about local shops being able to compete on a level playing field.”

Mr. Roberts warned that Derry’s city centre could be reduced to a ghost town with out of town retailers monopolising the local retail sector.

“Is this what people really want in the run up to City of Culture 2013 and all the opportunities it will bring with it?”

It’s with this in mind that Mr. Roberts appealed to local politicians to “consider local traders” when Tesco’s Buncrana Road application comes before Derry City Council for decision on March 6.

“I would appeal to members of Derry City Council to support their local traders and city centre and reject this planning application.”

Martin McCrossan, of the City Centre Traders Forum, agreed that Mr. Attwood left Friday’s meeting fully aware of local retailers’ opposition to out of town retail sites.

However, he again stressed that the stance of independent traders should not be viewed as one of “anti-development.”

“However, we made it quite clear to Mr. Attwood that, if the Buncrana Road application was to get the go-ahead, it would be hugely detrimental to retailers not only in Derry city centre but to other established businesses in the locality.”