PLANNING Minister Alex Attwood’s decision to green light Genova North West’s proposal to bring ASDA to the Crescent Link received a broad welcome in Londonderry on Friday.
DUP MLA William Hay, who has been working with the Crescent Link Retail Park owners, on the projects for a number of years, said it was a positive development and will bring much needed jobs to the city.
“After four to five years of working on the project it is great news for the developers,” said Mr Hay. “Especially, that it is to be located in the Waterside. It will mean several hundred jobs for the city.”
The local MLA has long argued a new ASDA store in Londonderry would stem the exodus of thousands of local shoppers to its existing retail outlets in Strabane and Coleraine every weekend.
Mr Attwood admitted this was part of his rationale in approving the ASDA development; that it would keep shoppers in Londonderry as well as attracting new shoppers in.
He told the Sentinel: “I’ve approved this proposal up at the Homebase location because what I think you will be able to do by having that location is to bring back into Derry that business that has been leaving Derry.”
He added: “By having that retail opportunity, broadening the retail opportunity in a way, it not just keeps custom in Derry, for the people of Derry, but it will attract into Derry, custom from outside Derry, not least from the North West and from Donegal.”
Mr Hay was quick to point out that there would still be time for anyone with concerns about the impact of the proposal to make their voices heard.
“The Minister wants further meetings to look at the masterplan,” said Mr Hay. “So all is not lost for those who were concerned at the impact. We hope to meet the Minister and everybody else involved in this project so that we can build confidence.”
ASDA’s Head of Property Acquisitions in Northern Ireland, Colin Sangster, said: “We are delighted that the Environment Minister has listened to the people of Derry/Londonderry and approved our plans for Crescent Link.
“A new ASDA store in the city will create and sustain hundreds of jobs, both directly and indirectly through our local network of suppliers.”
“Our £30 million investment will finally bring great value, low prices and consumer choice to city residents. We see this as the smart choice for Derry/Londonderry and the start of our on-going investment in the city.”
Sinead McLaughlin of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce said: “We hope that now that one project has been approved, it will be possible for that scheme to make a very early start on the construction work. Derry needs new jobs and investment.
“The Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly stressed the need to support the city centre and the traditional Waterside shopping area. We believe that balanced development is required for the city to move on in a sensible and mutually beneficial way.”
But although Mr Attwood approved the ASDA development he refused a number of other exciting applications in the Waterside whilst long-fingering two others.
GSB Guernsey Trading Ltd. and GML (NI) Ltd’s plan to bring Sainsbury’s to the Crescent Link was rejected, for example, because, planning officials say its 8000 square metres floorspace makes it “too large in terms of trade diversion.”
Notwithstanding this, Mr Attwood said a revolutionary joint mixed-use application by GSB and GML to bring health facilities, office space and smaller retail to the zoned land around the new Premier Inn may get the go ahead in future if certain elements are tweaked. He said this was because it would bring “added-value” to the city.
Said Mr Attwood: “The broader use of the site, the mixed use, health, retail, cinema and so on, an argument has been made to me that there is added value around that theme, not just in jobs in terms of construction but in terms of shaping that part of the city.”
“I said to the planning system, re-work the retail element of the mixed-use, rework the office-based element of the mixed-use.
“I accept the argument that there would be added value in a mixed use scheme up there,” he added.
If all this happens, as Mr Attwood put it: “On the far side of that there may be an approval.”
However, D&A Properties Ltd’s plans for a new 1,237 square metre food store at the dormant Desmond and Sons factory in Drumahoe alongside an ice rink and soccer dome were refused outright because: “there is an impact on other retail centres along with traffic impact issues.”
Officials have also ruled out the Drumahoe regeneration plan as there’s a “lack of information in terms of natural heritage concerns and impact on the character of the area.”
Meanwhile, two other proposals for the Waterside have been long-fingered. The McGinnis Group (Caw Properties Ltd.) will still be waiting for a decision on its proposed 100-bed hotel and retail development at Gransha - bigger in scale than phase II of the Foyleside shopping centre development - until next year at least. Equally, Niche Drinks will have to wait longer for a decision on plans for its premises at Rossdowney Road.
Mr Attwood also refused the plan to build a new Tesco at the junction of Buncrana Road and Templemore Road.
Referring to the Ministers actions generally Mrs McLaughlin said: “It is a relief that we now have certainty regarding some of the out of town planning applications. These have been subject to a long running and highly charged debate. The uncertainty has been damaging to investment in the city and region.”
She added: “We are very aware that the minister has tried to balance the demands of consumers and large retailers for new shopping areas with the need to protect and improve the city centre environment.
“It was always obvious that these conflicting demands would mean that not all the proposals would be approved.
“While not everyone will be satisfied with the decisions taken, we urge developers and investors to move ahead where possible. We also hope that greater investment in the city centre will now follow quickly.
“We urge the minister to make the outstanding decisions as early as possible in the new year in order to put an end to the continuing uncertainty.”