Food store plans ‘still under consideration’

Magherafelt Town Centre.
Magherafelt Town Centre.

FOUR major planning applications for food stores in Magherafelt ‘remain under consideration,’ the MAIL has learned.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood is not expected to rule on the applications - one of which dates back to May 2010 - until later in the year.

By Stanley Campbell

The plans are in respect of supermarkets at Moneymore Road for the Conway Group; Ballyronan Road for Corbo; Castledawson Road for Forbes Furniture Group, and Thornhill Avenue/Oakvale Manor off Moneymore Road for RSL Developments.

There has been speculation that Minister Attwood would be making an announcement on the applications in the near future, but a DOE spokeswoman would only say they were under still under consideration.

One of the applicants told the MAIL yesterday that they would like a decision as soon as possible from the Minister.

“We cannot do anything until he makes his call,” he said. “Our development is an investment in the future of Magherafelt and will bring jobs and boost the local economy. That is something which must be welcomed by all give the present economic climate.”

An independent survey, conducted on behalf of Magherafelt District Council a few years ago, revealed that over £1 million a week was estimated to be ‘leaking from the town’ as result of shoppers leaving Magherafelt district to shop elsewhere, particularly Cookstown, Ballymena and Coleraine.

The DOE spokeswoman said: “The Minister has made it very clear that he wishes to make decisions on Article 31s quickly as good process requires. The evidence backs this up. Minister Attwood has been decisive on planning applications and issued a large number of Article 31 major planning decisions. Since taking up Ministerial position, he has reduced the backlog of Article 31 applications by two thirds - from 60 in May 2011 to a current total of 20 of the May 2011 applications outstanding.

“The Minister demonstrated in various decisions, he must get the right balance of outcomes, protects existing and in town retail and, where appropriate, allowing edge of/out of town. He will therefore be careful going forward.

“The same is true for Magherafelt. He has always said that other groups of decisions would come first, including the multiple Derry applications. Magherafelt is one of the next groups. The four retail applications in Magherafelt remain under consideration. Decisions that will define the future of Magherafelt’s retail offering cannot be taken lightly and all of these Article 31 decisions will be announced following a thorough and robust planning process.

“As these applications are outside the town centre but within the development limit, consideration needs to be given to protecting the town centre of Magherafelt. It is also important that all four applications are considered together due to their cumulative retail impact. That is how the Minister will proceed and do so as quickly as he can.”