Discount store approved for Crescent Link

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The applicant behind a planned new discount retail outlet at Crescent Link has expressed delight after finally being given the go-ahead for the project.

Around 40 jobs are expected to be created and £750,000 invested at the new store and Crescent Link Car Park, although it remains unclear which discount operator will be locating there.

Councillors sitting on Derry & Strabane Council’s Planning Committee voted by majority to reject planners’ recommendation that the application be turned down.

Planners had argued during the committee’s September meeting on Wednesday that although there would be investment and jobs, this would displace jobs from others areas, and went against a ‘city centre first’ policy and the Derry Area Plan. Planners also said there were other, more suitable sites available.

The applicants had asked to vary certain conditions on a previous application to allow mixed retailing at the outlet.

A spokesman for the applicants, Genova North West Ltd., speaking after the meeting said: “We are delighted to get this passed.”

Andrew Stephens, from Northern Ireland Independent Retailers’ Association, had earlier urged councillors to reject the application.

He said the proposal did not comply with the Local Development Plan, nor with the most recent planning policy. He also claimed that it does not have an end user and said that despite previous assurances that two discount retailers already operating locally were interested, both had said they would not be going into the site. He further pointed to planners’ assertions that the applicant’s proposal to redevelop part of the car park at Crescent Link would not impact on traffic issues.

Addressing the committee on behalf of the applicants, Andrew Ryan from TLT Law Firm, said this was the sixth time the matter had come before the committee, adding: “This is completely unheard of.”

He said the reasons under which the Planning Committee have previously approved the development- signficant employment and improvements to traffic flows- remained the same, apart, he said, from the fact that there have been a number of business at Crescent Link which have been either shut down or are planning to close, with the loss of dozens of jobs. “This isn’t job displacement, this is job creation,” he argued. “This is an injection of £750,000 of economic investment into the city.” He also said there was a deal on the table with a retailer but that the details remianed confidential.

SDLP Colr. Tina Gardiner however said: “I am conscious that the ‘city centre first,’ which is very important to us, is going to be negated if we go ahead and change the conditions of retail in the park.” She said it was the committee’s job to have a vision for the city, and one that ensured its centre did not have “shop upon shop lying vacant” while trade moved out to retail parks.

Her SDLP colleague John Boyle agreed, stating that this could lead to a “doughnut effect where everything is on the outside and nothing in the centre.” Allowing this development, he warned, could set a dangerous precedent.

DUP Colr. Hilary McClintock said while everyone was concerned about the city centre, the Waterside was also experincing difficulties, with 25 vacant units on Spencer Road and the closures outlined at Crescent Link.

Proposing the committee reject the planners’ recommendation, Sinn Fein Colr. Christopher Jackson said the recent problems in terms of closures and job losses at Crescent Link could not be ignored. “Supporting the city centre needs to be a priority but there needs to be a certain level of balance to sustain existing jobs and try to bring new jobs,” he said.

Only councillors who attended a recent pre-determination hearing were permitted to vote, with six voting in favour of overturning the Planners’ recommendation,to two against.

Speaking after the meeting, Sinn Fein Colr. Tony Hassan said there was something seriously wrong when it took so long for this application to get to the stage where it was being decided upon.

He added that protection of the city centre needed to be balanced with the pressing and well-documented need for investment and jobs in the wider area.