Council in last gasp plea to NIIRTA to end Tesco battle

A LAST-minute rally call to back the Tesco development at Bridgewater Park went out to councillors attending the monthly meeting of Banbridge District Council yesterday (Monday) evening.

A group of councillors put forward a ‘Notice of Motion’ to the council, seeking immediate support to contact NIIRTA (Northern Ireland Independent Retail and Trade Association) in an eleventh hour bid to dissuade the body from pressing ahead with this week’s legal challenge.

The trading body - which, it is claimed, has the support of only a handful of local traders - is objecting to the Tesco Bridgewater development on the grounds it will direct trade away from the town centre.

The association successfully applied for a judicial review of the decision by former Environment Minister Edwin Poots - who upheld planning approval for the project following receipt of a revised application from developers earlier this year.

However, with time running out before Thursday’s High Court decision, concerned councillors are anxious to send a letter to NIIRTA pointing out what they believe will be serious economic consequences for Banbridge if a judicial review is permitted and the Tesco enterprise is put on ‘hold’.

Councillor Seamus Doyle - who, along with fellow councillors Jim McElroy, Ian Burns and Sheila McQuaid, instigated the Notice of Motion - said any decision to hold up the long-awaited Bridgewater development would be disastrous for the town.

“It is imperative that NIIRTA withdraw their objections to the Bridgewater development as a judicial review will put Banbridge at a massive disadvantage in terms of other prospective investments over the next few years,” said Mr Doyle.

“Investers will be looking closely at this decision and they will hold off until they see what is happening with Bridgwater. Banbridge will stagnate in economic terms, not least because the Tesco store at Bridgewater will bring vital new jobs and opportunities and its development is linked into the development of other units, factories and warehouses at the site.”

He said it was important to send out the message that Banbridge was “open for business” and to point out that NIIRTA does not represent the majority views of town traders.

Council colleague, Jim McElroy, also spelled out the stark implications of a judicial review, saying, “This action by NIIRTA, who only represent a small number of town traders, will mean Banbridge will be moth-balled in terms of investment for one-to-two years. All investors will want to see what decision is made before they invest.

“This means that the 1000 square metres of industrial units will not start; the additional units of retail warehousing will not start and the Council will not be able to secure funding from the developers to assist with the delivery of the proposed new bus station.”

Mr McElroy suggested NIIRTA was “using Banbridge to fight a regional battle” and added that in the current climate “everything possible” should be done to encourage investment in the district, bring in new jobs and much-needed extra revenue from rates.

Meanwhile, Upper Bann MP David Simpson has also expressed his concern at the possible loss of hundreds of jobs in Banbridge as a result of ongoing delay at the Bridgewater site.

“We have now reached a situation where the overwhelming number of people in the Banbridge area are saying that it is time to move ahead and bring an end to ongoing disputes and challenges to this new development,” said Mr Simpson.

“Further delay can have no positive impact upon this issue. It can only serve to place existing and new jobs in jeopardy, as the future of these plans will have an obvious knock-on effect upon the ability of the Outlet Centre to attract other investors.

“We are going through very difficult economic times when jobs are in short supply. We need a degree of certainty on this and there needs to be a swift resolution to any legal processes in order that people can have some degree of confidence about their future.”