Fears for city centre retail ‘wasteland’

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

Derry’s city centre could become a wasteland if plans for out-of-town retailing space are given the go-ahead.

This is the view of the body representing independent shopkeepers in the city which has warned that approval for up to nine outstanding retail applications could decimate Derry’s commercial heart.

Planning chiefs are currently reviewing the major applications and reassessing accompanying retail impact information.

A Planning Service representative has said the proposals were being looked at to “ensure that decisions are made in the context of the most up-to-date information available.”

DOE Minister Alex Attwood recently pledged to clear a backlog of more than 50 major planning applications right across the North.

It was reported recently that planners have already reversed their decision on Tesco’s prolonged bid to open a new store at Buncrana Road.

Planning Service had refused the application for a 24,000 sq. ft. store in February of last year but is now believed to view the application as acceptable following an update of retail impact information.

There have also been suggestions that the supermarket giant could get the go-ahead for an expansion of its store at Lisnagelvin in the city’s Waterside.

Other applications being assessed by planners are a 33,000 sq. ft. Asda store at Drumahoe and a 42,000 sq. ft Sainsbury’s store at Crescent Link.

Retail-led developments for the environs of the city have also been lodged by CAW Properties and Genova North West Ltd.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive, Northern Ireland Independent Retail Traders Association (NIIRTA) is fearful that the out-of-town plans, if given the go-ahead, could “lay waste” to Derry’s city centre.

“A new planning policy to support town centres is urgently needed,” he told the ‘Journal’ this week.

“Minister Attwood has, in the past, given assurances that he will protect our town and city centres but all recent indications suggest this is no longer the case.

“We feel there is an unnecessary rush to get these applications through the system which means planning policy is being bypassed and laying waste to our town and city centres.”

The association’s concerns coincide with new figures that show the number of vacant shops in city centres across the North outstrips that in Britain.

“Sadly, with nearly a million sq. ft. of out of town superstore applications being considered by the DOE, this problem is likely to get much worse if they are granted approval,” said Mr. Roberts.

The NIIRTA chief says the out-of-town plans - if given the green light - could result in Derry’s retail sector resembling a “doughnut”.

“We could have all the retail space encircling the city with a hollowed out middle. This makes no sense at all - particularly in Derry which is about to host the City of Culture.

“We could have a scenario of thousands of people visiting the city for the celebrations to find that there is no independent retail sector in its commercial heart. What sort of message does that send out?”

NIIRTA and local traders are scheduled to hold talks with Alex Attwood in Derry today.