Planning officials recommend rejecting major Newry retail park bid

How the proposed retail park in Newry could look
Ryan McAleer

PLANNING officials have rejected a bid to construct a major new retail park in Newry, claiming it could hit city centre retail business by around 25 per cent.

Damolly Developments' proposal centres on the former HM Revenue and Customs clearance station and office complex next to the to the Newry by-pass, the main road-link between Belfast and Dublin.

The company, owned by the Breen family, secured planning permission in 2014 for a large foodstore and up to 70 business units on the site. But permission for the supermarket remains conditional on a block of the business units being completed and available for occupation.

The project, which was approved by former Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, was taken to a 2015 judicial review hearing after Newry Chamber of Commerce objected.

The judge ultimately ruled in the favour of the Hill Partnership, run by Warrenpoint-based father and son team Laurence and Eamon Breen.

Their latest application was submitted in 2017 under the name Damolly Developments.

It involves expanding on the site to 35 acres with 11 retail units arranged in an ‘L shape', ranging from 10,700 sq ft to 30,500 sq ft. The bid also includes three 3,500 sq ft restaurant units, a smaller café and 878 parking spaces.

The developer claims the entire project represents a £100 million investment, generating 700 construction jobs and potentially sustaining 1,000 jobs when operational.

But planning officials at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council have recommended the proposal be rejected. In a report to be considered by the council's planning committee on October 16, planners concluded that the proposed floorspace of the new venture dedicated to sales (approximately 181,000 sq ft), amounts to more than one-third of the total existing floorspace in Newry city centre.

“It is clear that the approval of this level of unrestricted floorspace would have a significantly adverse effect on the existing city centre in terms of trade and turnover and other existing centres,” states the report.

“The levels of retail impact on Newry City Centre range from best case scenario of 17 per cent to a more likely and very significant impact of 24-28 per cent.

“These levels would be unacceptable in the opinion of the planning department.”

Retail NI, which represents the north's independent retail and wholesale trade, has submitted its objection to the proposal.

While the council's planning department accepted that the retail park could deliver an annual economic windfall of £28.6m, it said it was unclear whether this would amount to new or displaced employment.

“The issue to be considered, is how many of these jobs would be additional employment or opportunities displaced from elsewhere, including the city centre or outlying centres.”

The report also questions the economic assessment carried out on behalf of the developer.

Council officials have raised doubts on the potential catchment population for the centre, stating that it failed to account for the proximity of Craigavon and Sprucefield. The planning department said it considers the catchment population will be about 27,000 people fewer than the estimates submitted by the developer's consultancy firm.

It also says the developer has used outdated data, stating that the difference between the available consumer spending in the catchment area (£283m) and turnover in centres in the catchment (£415m) is markedly different.

“A more detailed analysis of existing retail provision and the health of existing centres is required.”

The full report is due to go before Newry, Mourne and Down District Council's planning committee on October 16.

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