More than 2,600 new jobs are being jeopardised by planning delays for a £250m shopping complex, the developer behind the major investment has claimed.
Fearghal Eastwood had hoped to lay the first stone at Castlebawn in Newtownards this spring but the project could be delayed by several months, if not years, after the DoE ruled its fate will be determined by a public inquiry.
Mr Eastwood had expected the application to be approved after complying with planners’ requirement to build a new £5m access road to the site.
He said: “We were shocked to learn that despite years of close consultation with all the statutory bodies, local businesses, public representatives and investors that Castlebawn is nonetheless to go through a public inquiry.”
Castlebawn, which remains committed to the development, said 2,000 jobs would have been created at the 75-acre retail park, with an additional 600 construction workers needed to build the first phase of the development, a Tesco store. Local MP Iris Robinson has written to her First Minister husband to voice her concern. She said: “Having been involved with the Castlebawn project since 2001 I have witnessed the developer jump through every hoop that was requested.”
Mrs Robinson added: “The people of Newtownards have been waiting for the Castlebawn development for years and just when we thought there was light at the end of the tunnel, the project is sent for public consultation; and in so doing has placed everything that we have been working towards in jeopardy.”
The DoE is headed by Mrs Robinson’s senior party colleague, Sammy Wilson, who himself has voiced criticism of planners.
Newtownards has suffered a series of job blows in recent weeks following the closure of Woolworths and children’s clothes store Adams.
Marks and Spencer’s Simply Food store has also been earmarked for closure.
The Planning Appeals Commission yesterday said it was awaiting clarification and documentation from the DoE before it could advance the Castlebawn application.
A DoE spokesman said: “Planning Service can confirm that it is in the process of responding to correspondence from the PAC. All relevant papers will be with the PAC within the next week.”