Derry City & Strabane District Council has approved plans which will allow a major discount retailer to move into a vacant unit at Crescent Link.
A majority of councillors went against a recommendation by Planners to refuse the application from the owner at Crescent Link Retail Park, to vary a previous application to allow mixed retailing at one of the existing units which has been vacant for three and half years.
The applicant, Mr. Ciaran Murdock, from Genova North West Ltd., confirmed at the Council’s January Planning Committee meeting, that a discount retailer has entered an agreement to take on the 10,000 sq. ft. Unit 4 building. He said the name of the firm could not be made public yet, but that it was a retailer already operating in the city and that this was not a relocation but an additional store, creating up to 50 jobs.
Speaking at the meeting in Strabane on Wednesday evening, he confirmed he would also spend £350,000 in redeveloping the car park at Crescent Link to ease congestion and facilitate the expected increase in traffic due to the new store. Details submitted show this would involve redeveloping the car park at the roundabout and down past the McDonald’s/ Starbucks/ Subway site to deal with congestion.
At a previous meeting, it had been stated by the applicants that Home Bargains, which is currently constructing a store in Pennyburn, had been interested in the site. They clarified at the meeting that this is no longer the case, but that another discount retailer is now planning to locate there.
Planners, however, objected on the grounds that it was contrary to Derry’s Area Plan of 2011 in that it would create a “wide ranging precedent” and that suitable alternative sites were available for retail use.
They also said there was insufficient information provided to make an assessment on the need for it and that it could have an adverse impact on existing city centre and district centres.
Andy Stephens from the N. Ireland Retail Traders Association and Robin Young, from Niche Drinks, had voiced their opposition to the application, but the planners’ recommendation was overturned by majority, with eight councillors voting to approve, against four who voted to refuse the application.
There were mixed views expressed on the major planning application for Crescent Link during the meeting.
Robin Young, Finance Director, Niche Drinks, said the company had a vested interest in the application as it had permission for a supermarket as part of its site in Rossdowney.
Mr. Young said that the 40,000 sq. ft. site would involve the same number of jobs, adding that they needed to sell the site in order to relocate their current Cream Liqueur business.
He also said that decisions on the Planning applications should not be dependant upon a potential operator but on the council’s own Area Plan.
Mr. Andy Stephens, from Northern Ireland Independent Retailers’ Association also agreed that the application should be rejected. He said there was no interest from Home Bargains and no proof of economic benefit.
He said that the pledged access improvements at Crescent Link could not be made a condition of the application.
Mr. Stevens further argued that there was an issue around setting a precedent if the Planner’s recommendation was overturned.
He also said that the proposal “continues to detract from investment in other sites.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Christopher Jackson said that the site actually fell outside the Derry Area Plan.
He said that there were unique circumstances at play with the application, and there was an issue with major congestion at the site, particularly for residents. “There is an opportunity for this to be addressed as part of this application,” he said.
Andrew Ryan from TLT Law Firm, on behalf of the applicants, said he could confirm that a detailed agreement had been entered into by the applicant and a discount retailer and he disputed claims granting permission would set a precedent.
He said the development would create 40 to 50 permanent jobs and deliver an economic benefit of £750,00 to Derry, adding that the plans included “significant car parking and access improvements at a cost of £350,000.”
He added that occupation of the site could take place within a matter of months.
Mr. Murdock added that the tenant would be “a national retailer” who was making a “long term commitment at the park.”
Proposing they approve the application, Colr. Jackson said that this was “encouraging”.
“There’s very high levels of unemployment and we can’t just turn our noses up at 40 to 50 jobs.”