Major new Carnbane development draws mixed reactions

June 2, 2014

By Christine Keighery

The news that Environment Minister Mark Durkan has approved planning permission for a major new development at Newry’s Carnbane Way has drawn mixed reactions from local political representatives and trade groups.

The development by the Hill Partnership will incorporate a mix of 70 industrial and business units, a retail foodstore, 14 residential units and associated landscaping on the 15 hectare site. Approving the plans for the out-of-town development, Mr Durkan said it would provide “an economic boost for the area and will bring many jobs.”

During his announcement last Friday, the Environment Minister also maintained that the development of the area would regenerate and enhance part of the Newry Canal that runs through the site, making it more accessible to the public.

Despite his department receiving 85 objections to the plans along with two petitions of objection; one containing 688 signatures and the other containing 76 objections in relation to the application, it was designated as an Article 31 application, meaning that it was of such significance that the final decision rested with the Minister.

Explaining his decision to approve the ambitious plan, the Minister said he had given the matter “careful consideration” and was “satisfied that the strength of the city centre and the strong retail offering available, means that it can compete with this proposal and can continue to provide a wide range of shopping facilities for the people of Newry and the wider rural area.”

“In planning terms this proposal conforms to the requirements of the Newry and Mourne Area Plan 2015 which earmarked this site for light industrial and residential development. The proposals include significant landscape improvements and measures to ensure the long term protection of the Spring Hill Rath, a scheduled monument,” he added.

According to the Minister his decision “is shaping a planning system that delivers for business, balanced with the protection of our environment. A system that builds a better environment and a stronger economy.”

The move came under heavy fire from the Newry Chamber of Commerce & Trade who said its members were shocked and dismayed by the Minister’s approval of the Carnbane development.

Deborah Loughran, President of Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade said:

“The Newry business community works extremely hard to provide an attractive and convenient retail offering in the heart of Newry City Centre.  The local retail environment has changed dramatically over recent years. Global trading conditions and changing consumer habits have created a challenging environment for our retailers resulting in vacant units scattered throughout the City.  Imposing this outrageous decision on the Newry business community has the potential to decimate our City Centre.

“This decision and indeed the Minister’s assertion that he is ‘confident the town centre can compete’ completely contravenes his own Planning Policy Statement on Town Centres First, dated as recently as February 2014.  There are numerous development sites within Newry City Centre where this development could have been located.  This site is not zoned for a retail food store and for the Minister to grant approval of this out of town site flies in the face of his own policies and Departmental guidelines.”

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) described the decision as “disgraceful” with NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts adding that the association was “bitterly disappointed” by the planning approval, which he said would result in job losses in Newry City Centre.

“This decision is in complete contradiction to his own department’s draft policy of Town Centre First,” said Mr Roberts,

“What is the point of his department putting forward a draft Town Centre First policy if he makes decisions which put out of town locations first?

“Minister Durkan has ignored the views of Newry City Centre traders and instead listened to the views of developers who have no interest in the City Centre”

The Chief Executive confirmed that both NIIRTA and Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade are demanding an urgent meeting with the Minister.

Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh, Connor Murphy, echoed those sentiments, branding the scheme “bad news” for Newry City Centre.

“It is outside of the town boundaries and it will simply displace jobs which are currently located in Newry, further sucking life out of our city centre,” said Mr Murphy

“There is ample vacant retail property within the boundaries of Newry Town Centre which could be utilised instead of this new development.  In fact redevelopment within our city centre could have great potential to further reinvigorate and reenergise city centre shopping.

“I have spoken to Sinn Féin councillors who have confirmed that Newry & Mourne Council has opposed this development as have Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade and NIITRA.

“I am surprised, considering the Minister’s opinion that this is good news for Newry, that he did not make the announcement in advance of last week’s local government elections.  I contend that this is a bad news story for Newry and that this planning should not have been granted.”

The Sinn Fein MP said he too would be seeking a meeting with Minister Durkan to query the granting of the planning permission which he said “would seem to fly in the face of his own department’s ‘Town Centre First’ policy.”

SDLP MLAs Karen McKevitt and Dominic Bradley have however welcomed the approval for the new development, which they say will be a boost to the area and “strengthen its position as an important retail hub.”

In particular, they lauded the boost to the local construction industry and described the plans as good news for entrepreneurs and smaller businesses who will have the opportunity of availing of the units and growing their businesses.

“When complete, it will hopefully add to the number of shoppers that are attracted to Newry, which will have positive knock-on effects for the local retail sector, and in turn helps the economy of whole community.”

“Newry already has outstanding shopping facilities and this development will complement the diverse range of existing retail outlets, which will benefit local consumers, those from across the north and further afield,”  added Ms McKevitt.

Mr Bradley said his party, along with Newry and Mourne District Council, had supported the application all along.

“The jobs, which will come from the construction of the project, will be very much welcome by the construction industry in the area. The construction industry has been under severe pressure for several years and this is a timely boost,” said the Newry and Armagh MLA,

“The 70 light industrial/business units will be very welcome and will help Newry’s SMEs to continue to grow. The 14 residential units will also help to ease the housing situation in Newry.”