Supermarket chain Asda has confirmed that it hopes to submit a planning application for a new store development near Monkstown within weeks.
The £25.1 million project could see the construction of a 40,000sq/ft retail outlet and filling station as part of a wider mixed-use development that would include a call centre, industrial units and residential properties.
The company says the new superstore, if it gets the go-ahead, will create around 350 full-time and part-time jobs.
During a presentation to local councillors on Monday evening (August 5) highlighting Asda’s concerns about the slowness and uncertainties of the province’s planning system, the firm’s Property Communications Manager for Northern Ireland, Oliver Jones, stressed that the company is committed to the Monkstown project and hopes to have a planning application submitted “by the end of September”.
Earlier on Monday, Asda bosses met with community representatives in Monkstown to discuss the new store plan and how it might affect the local area.
Several councillors, including the UUP’s John Scott and DUP man Robert Hill, welcomed the plan to transform the disused 14-acre site at the junction of Doagh Road and Monkstown Road and bring hundreds of jobs to the borough, but expressed concerns about possible traffic chaos in the area if the existing roads infrastructure isn’t significantly improved.
Mr Jones assured members that the company’s proposal includes a promise of a £1.3m investment to improve the road system and traffic flow in the vicinity of the site.
Reflecting on the traffic problems outside the firm’s Ballyclare store, Councillor Pat McCudden suggested that the situation could be rectified with the addition of another entrance/exit at Granges Street, Park Street or the Ballycorr Road end of the site - a suggestion Mr Jones and his colleague, Joe McDonald, Asda’s Public Affairs Manager for Northern Ireland, agreed to take on board.
Referring to Asda’s ‘Barriers to Growth’ document, both men stressed the need for meaningful reform within the Northern Ireland planning system. They claimed that in England and Scotland decisions can be made within six months, but can take as long as two to four years in Northern Ireland - something which has significant cost implications for businesses awaiting planning approval.
“The way the planning system is at the minute we could be looking at late 2015 or early 2016 before the new store is operational,” Mr Jones commented.
Meanwhile, during the meeting a number of councillors, including UUP man Mark Cosgrove, raised concerns about the affect a new superstore might have on existing local retail businesses and jobs.
Mr Jones stressed that the company expects to attract most of its trade from “direct multiple competitors” such as Tesco, and assured members that a full impact assessment will be submitted as part of the planning application.