Cityside retail complex in motorway signage row

A sign on the M2 advertising petrol prices at Applegreen service station.  Picture by Cliff Donaldson
A sign on the M2 advertising petrol prices at Applegreen service station. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

A MAJOR retail shopping complex in north Belfast has been turned down over requests for advertising signage on a proposed new stretch of motorway - despite similar signs for a service station being installed on the M2 earlier this year.

Tenders have been sought for the York Street Interchange project, which aims to link the M2, M3 and Westlink by cutting through a section of north Belfast.

The Cityside shopping complex, on York Street, has raised a number of concerns about the proposals as current access points to its stores will be cut off to passing traffic.

Cityside has indicated its support for the proposed motorway extension, saying it "will strengthen connectivity" and help the economy. The Department for Regional Development (DRD) has said it would pay compensation to Cityside if car parking spaces at its current site are affected by the interchange.

However a request by Cityside for signage on the new stretch of motorway to advertise its shopping complex has been turned down.

At a public inquiry into the plans, held earlier this month in Belfast, a senior DRD official pour cold water on Cityside's request.

Roy Spiers said: "We don't sign (for commercial premises on the motorway) as a matter of policy. We would be happy to put a sign for York Street."

Richard Agus, representing Cityside, shook his head and replied: "Have a look at Applegreen on the M2."

Mr Spiers said: "We can't put up signage for Cityside. The issues associated with the signage for a service station on the motorway are totally different."

A DRD spokeswoman said: "Signage to individual locations is not considered appropriate from the motorway network. However motorway service stations are unique in that they have a private direct access onto the motorway network."

The policy towards a potential sign for Cityside stands in stark contrast to the stance taken by the government department when retailer Applegreen lobbied for signs.

Official policy on motorway advertising was amended by DRD to allow signage for the new station and its petrol prices, despite the department arguing against the move for over two years.

There was also criticism of the department by UKIP MLA David McNarry after it confirmed it was not benefitting financially from the arrangement.

Mr McNarry said: "One of the points is that this department doesn’t have two dimes to put together. Well done to Applegreen for wiping the eye of the department here."

Mr McNarry added that it was a "very serious matter" that the issue was not referred to the DRD assembly committee for debate and scrutiny and expressed concern that it could "set a dangerous precedent."

Applegreen, which posted a net profit of £2 million for the three months to June, is a major retailer in the Republic and is opening a further three stations as part of a £25 million investment in the north.