REACTION has been vociferious and swift to last week’s High Court decision to grant leave for a Judicial Review of planning approval for the long-awaited Tesco Extra store at Bridgewater Park.
Members of the public were quick to vent their frustration at the decision which was granted in Belfast’s High Court last Thursday following a legal challenge by NIIRTA (Northern Ireland Independent Trade and Retail Association).
The Tesco superstore was granted outline planning permission in March this year following a protracted battle for the hearts and minds of local politicians, traders and members of the public.
And it looked like work on the store would eventually begin after former Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, upheld planning approval for the enterprise in May. This followed a decision by the planning service to approve a new, revised application submitted by developers.
Now, a Judicial Review means hopes for a new Tesco at Bridgewater Park have been stonewalled yet again, raising the spectre of Banbridge plans being “mothballed” in terms of investment for at least two years, according to Councillor Jim McElroy.
Mr McElroy, who instigated last week’s eleventh hour Notice of Motion at Banbridge District Council’s monthly meeting, calling on NIIRTA to withdraw its Judicial Review application, spoke of his disappointment:
“This action means that Banbridge will be mothballed in terms of investment for one-to-two years,” said Mr McElroy, whose Notice of Motion was carried by a majority vote of 13-4. All investors will want to see what decision is made before they decide to invest in the town.”
He also expressed concern that the Outlet itself would be under threat of closure if the Tesco store does not go ahead and bring a much-needed boost to the retail village.
Appealing for council support for the motion last Monday evening, Mr McElroy warned any Tesco postponement would mean the 1,000 square metres of industrial units would not start, additional units of retailing and warehousing would be plugged and the council would not be able to secure funding from the developers to assist with the building of the proposed new bus station.
His views were promptly reinforced by visitors to the Leader’s Facebook page, with online readers voicing their concern at the latest twist and some calling for shoppers to boycott traders who support NIIRTA’s action.
Many were worried for the future of the town with regard to lost employment opportunities and investment, while others believed Banbridge had been used as “a pawn” by the trading body.
However, Glyn Roberts, chief executive of NIIRTA, said he was pleased the judge believed his organisation had an “arguable case”.
“We are pleased that after hearing from the legal teams of NIIRTA, DoE and Tesco, the judge believes we have an arguable case to be heard in judicial review,” he said. “NIIRTA’s legal team successfully argued that the Minister’s decision could be subject to legal scrutiny.
“NIIRTA brought this case because we have major concerns that this proposed out-of-town hypermarket would remove £18 million from Banbridge town centre, resulting in small, independent traders closing and the net loss of hundreds of jobs.
“Banbridge has one of the best town centres in Northern Ireland and we are committed to protecting it and ensuring it goes from strength to strength.
“We hope that this judicial review will be resolved as quickly as possible.”