Business leaders argue Carnbane retail development 'will destroy the heart of Newry'

A plan for the proposed retail park at Carnbane, outside Newry
Ryan McAleer

BUSINESS leaders in Newry have warned the city centre will suffer “incalculable damage” if one of the biggest ever out of town retail developments in the history of the north is allowed to go ahead.

Planning officials at Newry Mourne and Down District Council have already recommended that the local authority reject the latest bid by developer Laurence Breen to build the retail park on the site former HM Revenue and Customs clearance station at Carnbane.

Retail NI has claimed the 244,000 sq ft proposed retail development is larger than Sprucefield which could hit retail in Newry city centre by up to 29 per cent.

But Rostrevor-based developer Laurence Breen has said that the proposal represents a private investment of £100 million. He said it will create 700 construction jobs and up to 1,000 ‘operational jobs' once completed.

Mr Breen has secured speaking rights for Wednesday's meeting of the council's planning committee, where councillors are due to vote on the recommendation to reject the bid.

The controversial proposal was due to be debated last month, but was withdrawn at the last minute after an intervention from the Department for Infrastructure.

Proposals for a major development on the site date back to 2009. In 2014, Mr Breen's company The Hill Partnership secured planning permission to build a large food store, with the stipulation that 70 industrial units be completed first.

Newry Chamber of Commerce lost a High Court challenge the following year.

In 2017, Mr Breen switched his focus to a retail park venture under a proposal from Damolly Developments. It includes 11 large retail units, four restaurant/café units and 878 parking spaces.

Planning officials at Newry Mourne and Down District Council have said the bid remains contrary to planning policy.

In a statement on Monday, Newry Chamber, Newry BID and Retail NI urged councillors to reject the application on Wednesday.

Eamon Connolly, the managing director of business development group Newry BID, claimed the scale of the retail park “would destroy the heart of Newry”.

He said: “At a time when town and city centres are under huge pressure it makes no sense for councillors to approve a massive development that their own professional officials recommend for refusal for good reason.

“We trust councillors will listen to the local community and acknowledge that Newry is not big enough for two cities.”

The chief executive of Newry Chamber, Colm Shannon said: “The scale of the proposed development will threaten the viability of retail businesses in the city and impact on local communities which benefit from easy access to these businesses.”

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts described the proposal as the equivalent of developing a second city centre.

“Carnbane would be a completing city centre, drawing away jobs, retailers, hospitality, shoppers and would cause incalculable damage to Newry City Centre. It would have a retail impact on Newry City Centre of nearly 30 per cent and is completely contrary to the town centre planning policy and the local development plan.”

Both Mr Roberts and Mt Connolly are due to speak at Wednesday's planning meeting. Andy Stephens of Matrix Planning is also due to speak in opposition to the proposal.

His submission argues that it will take 18 years to retail spending growth in the area to generate the turnover necessary to support the retail park.

He claims 44 per cent of income will be diverted from Newry city centre, adding: “The site and developer have delivered absolutely zero benefits or jobs to Newry since the food superstore was granted in 2014.”

But in his submission, Laurence Breen states: “Economic benefits of this proposal far outweigh any of the concerns raised by the officer, and I would respectfully request that the committee approves the planning application on that basis.”

Martin Kelly of Gravis Planning, who will also address the meeting in support of the plan said while “there will be some diversion from Newry city centre”, he argues that there is no evidence it will have any adverse impact on existing and planned public and private sector investment, nor that it will impact investor confidence in the town centres.

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