NIIRTA ask developers to ‘prove us wrong’

AFTER a five-year battle to keep Tesco away from Bridgewater Retail Park the body who launched a judicial review against planning permission for the superstore have revealed they backed down because they didn’t think they could win the fight.

In an interview with the Leader NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said that, while he didn’t think the prolonged battle against the development had been in vain, the association representing independent traders felt the current planning climate in Northern Ireland would go against them as the Judicial Review proceeded.

Mr Roberts, who admitted the decision to drop the legal bid would come as a “disappointment” to those he said supported NIIRTA throughout the campaign, said he hoped it had at least highlighted the plight of some town centres facing competition from out-of-town hypermarkets.

NIIRTA’s decision to challenge planning permission and launch a Judicial Review of the Department of Environment decision last year was strongly opposed by many Banbridge residents who said the development would provide jobs and bring badly-needed footfall into the area.

But Mr Roberts challenged this, saying his reasons for opposing the development in the first place remain the same.

“We remain as opposed to this application as ever, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed.

“We’ve done everything we possibly could in the past five years, we couldn’t have done any more,” he said. “We’ve taken it through many different levels of objection but it comes to a point where you just have to move on.”

Asked if the sudden abandonment of the legal bid meant the years of objection had been a waste of time and something of a delaying tactic, Mr Roberts said no.

“It wasn’t at all just about delaying it; it was about scrutinising what we believe was a fundamentally flawed decision,” he said.

On first announcing the withdrawal of the judicial review Mr Roberts said the reasoning was because “the planning, legal and retail landscapes have changed since proceedings were initiated.”

But when asked to explain what exactly he meant by this Mr Roberts was vague.

“This legal action has been in the system for a year now and that’s a long time in retail. Things have changed, I’m not going to go into the detail.”

Mr Roberts said the current planning system in Northern Ireland leaves a lot to be desired, and indicated he was not confident a judge would have given them the outcome they wanted.

“If we had a stronger planning policy I don’t think this application (for planning permission at Bridgewater Park) would have been successful.

“I think we need to focus on changing planning policy, and we need to get rates right and car parking right, this is not just about us.”

Asked how much he feels the campaign against the supermarket’s construction, and subsequent legal bid to have the planning permission overturned amounted to, Mr Roberts said, “It would be difficult to put a figure on that at the minute. But in our view it’s been money well spent.

“For now we need to focus on the future and look at how we can ensure Banbridge doesn’t become a ghost town.

“I want the developers and Tesco to prove us wrong, I would be delighted if they could. But at the minute the way I see it is - if this goes ahead it will take £18m from Banbridge town centre, and that’s money the town cannot afford to lose.

“We weren’t successful in stopping this but hopefully we have highlighted the need to boost and protect independent trade.”