Magherafelt inquiry into foodstore refusals

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The Planning Appeals Commission has announced details of an inquiry into the Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan’s decision to refuse four out-of-town supermarkets at Magherafelt.

As revealed by the Mail back in June, three of the applicants decided to appeal the Minister’s ruling on the grounds the proposed developments would have a negative impact on trade in a “strong and vibrant” town centre.

Plans had been submitted for developments at Moneymore Road, for Merit Investments (Conway Group); Thornhill Avenue/Oakvale Manor off Moneymore Road (RSL Developments); Ballyronan Road (Corbo Ltd), and Castledawson Road (Forbes Furniture Group).

Three of these - Conway Group, Corbo Ltd and Forbes Group - will now be given an opportunity to challenge the Minister’s Article 31 refusal before a panel of commissioners who will then make recommendations to the Environment Department which will have the final decision.

The hearing is scheduled to open on Tuesday, March 10, next year at InVolve House, Queen Street, Magherafelt.

Business premises and other interested parties in Magherafelt have received a questionaire from the Planning Commission seeking their views on the applications.

A pre-hearing meeting will be held on Monday, November 24, at The Elk, Toombridge, to outline the arrangements for the hearing next March.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retailers’ Trade Association (NIITRA) and the town’s Chamber of Commerce had mounted a strong campaign against the out-of-town developments, and welcomed Mr Durkan’s decision in April to refuse them.

NIITRA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts argued that local residents and traders had “deep concerns” about the developments.

Mr Roberts described them as “superstores” and claimed they would not create any new jobs and instead “will displace and destroy existing retail jobs and close traders in Magherafelt town centre.”

One of the appellants recently told the Mail that their development is an investment in the future of Magherafelt and will bring jobs and boost the local economy which should be welcomed by all given the present economic climate.

He referred to an independent survey commissioned by Magherafelt District Council in 2011 which showed that an estimated £1m a week is “leaking from the town as a result of shoppers leaving Magherafelt to shop elsewhere.”