‘Hillhead Road scheme could create more than 300 jobs’

The former FG Wilson site in Ballyclare. INNT 11-104-CON
The former FG Wilson site in Ballyclare. INNT 11-104-CON
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LOCAL councillors have offered to facilitate a meeting between the group behind a proposed retail and industrial development on the Hillhead Road in Ballyclare and traders in the town who fear it could have a devastating effect on their businesses.

At their Planning and Consultation Committee meeting on Monday night (March 12), members were given a presentation by planning consultant David Donaldson about the latest proposals for the former FG Wilson site (pictured right).

He outlined how the current application for the location, where an earlier proposal for a 55,000 sq/ft Tesco superstore was turned down, has been in the planning system since April last year.

The scheme would involve demolition and decontamination of the 10 acre site, and the construction of five small business units, a daycare facility, warehousing and a 35,000 sq/ft retail outlet, filling station and car park.

Mr Donaldson stressed that there have been no objections to the scheme from local residents, but did admit that there has been representation from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association - the voice of local traders. He said the redevelopment of the site would represent a £15 million investment in the southern end of the town, could create around 300 jobs and provide the council with additional rates income of £300,000 per year.

Stressing that Ballyclare has been earmarked for significant growth under the government’s Regional Development Strategy, he said that the town needs to “up its game” in terms of job opportunities and retail provision.

Mr Donaldson stressed that the planning application is being treated as “an Article 31” (a major application) and its fate will therefore be decided by the Environment Minister. However, he urged councillors to give the project their backing in order to “expedite an early approval.”

“This is an important scheme for Ballyclare and we want to see it progress,” he told the meeting.

Asked if he was working on behalf of a particular supermarket chain to bring forward the retail development, Mr Donaldson said that “discussions are ongoing with a number of operators.”

Later in the meeting, alderman Paul Girvan said that he had heard that a number of major grocery retailers, including Waitrose, are interested in the Ballyclare site.

Several councillors, including Mark Cosgrove, Paul Girvan, Jim Bingham, Jackie Mann and Pat McCudden, welcomed the prospect of major investment and new jobs in the town, but all expressed reservations about the retail aspect of the proposal and what it might mean for existing businesses in Ballyclare and Glengormley, and the possibility that it could displace jobs from others parts of the borough. Some also expressed concerns about adding to the current traffic levels in the town before the long-awaited relief road project comes to fruition.

Rather than giving the application assent on the night, members agreed that they would need to make a considered response and agreed to try to facilitate a meeting between the development company and the Chamber of Trade in the coming weeks.

It’s understood that if the application does get the green light, the redevelopment of the site could be completed by 2014/15.