Asda ready to shelve £25m store plan for Northern Ireland as wider market struggles
Supermarket giant Asda looks set to pull the plug on plans for a £25m store in Co Antrim that was earmarked to create up to 300 new jobs, it can be revealed.
It is understood Asda is trying to get out of taking on the site near Monkstown, which had been identified for a major branch.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, Asda chief executive Andy Clarke, who was in Northern Ireland to meet buyers and industry members, would not confirm whether the store close to Newtownabbey was one of the developments the chain said it would have to re-assess.
It is understood Asda had agreed to buy the site and had submitted a planning application for the 40,000 sq ft development, but it is now believed it no longer wants to go ahead with its plans.
"Where there is space available to build a new spot, and it's right for us and the community, we want to open space," Mr Clarke said.
"The challenge in the last five years is that commercial sites have been less viable."
Asda is spending £3m on refitting and revamping some of its stores in Northern Ireland.
Mr Clarke also said some new developments may go ahead in the next few years, but he would not say how many or unveil their location.
"We have got a number of sites that we would like to open, and [it is] not yet concluded whether we will get consent for them," Mr Clarke said, adding that while the number was unquantifiable at the current moment, it would be more than one.
Asda now has 17 stores in Northern Ireland, and has seen its market share grow by around 2% in the last year.
Mr Clarke said, economically, Northern Ireland was a "more challenging" place to do business than other parts of the UK.
"That shows us the Northern Ireland consumer looks to us for value, and is one of the reasons we are outperforming other parts of Great Britain," he added.
Mr Clarke did not speak specifically about where new stores would be located or whether those already earmarked to open would get the go ahead.
"The Northern Ireland market continues to be important, offering great potential, [but]the wider UK market context may mean that we have to re-assess our involvement in some developments," the chief executive said.
Asda is celebrating more than a decade in business in Northern Ireland.
Following a visit to the firm's Dundonald store, Mr Clarke said he was also meeting First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness during his trip to Northern Ireland.
And despite concerns over the future of potential Asda developments, Mr Clarke told how the company was committed to "investing and growing" the business in Northern Ireland.
"We've enjoyed 10 years of strong retailing here and look forward to more growth in the future," he added.
"There's no doubt that the retail sector as a whole has permanently changed to reflect the shopping habits of customers today."