Blow for £50m scheme as retail giant Asda reconsiders its role
A £50m development in Newry, which would create more than 400 jobs, could be facing a setback as supermarket giant Asda reconsiders setting up at the site, it can be revealed.
The Hill Partnership, a family-owned business run by Laurence Breen and son Eamon, fought a long campaign through the courts to get permission for the project in the Co Down city.
Asda has long been strongly rumoured to be in discussions about becoming the lead retailer in the development, but has never officially said it's eyeing up the site.
But it's believed Asda may now not proceed with the store, in line with its decision to reconsider other sites in Northern Ireland.
When the initial go-ahead was given for the development, a spokeswoman for Asda couldn't confirm any potential deal for the location. But she did say it was "interested in opening a store in Newry".
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last month, Asda chief executive Andy Clarke would not confirm which stores would not proceed.
"The challenge in the last five years is that commercial sites have been less viable," he said.
Asked whether it had pulled the plug entirely on the development in Newry, a spokesman for Asda said: "While the retail market continues to face one of its most challenging periods ever, Asda remains committed to considering all new opportunities where they reflect our ongoing strategy."
Asda's cold feet comes after the Belfast Telegraph revealed the supermarket looks set to pull the plug on plans for a £25m store in Monkstown, a facility that was earmarked to create up to 300 new jobs.
In relation to Newry, the Hill Partnership had said a "major multi-national supermarket chain" would set up at the Carnbane Way development. The overall scheme could include a business park with 70 units and 14 homes.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan gave the article 31 scheme the green light in 2014. Planning applications are designated article 31 where they are regarded as so significant that they are decided by the Minister.
But the scheme was opposed by Newry Chamber of Commerce, and a judicial review began into the decision.
In July last year, the development received the go-ahead after the review ruled in its favour.
Judge Seamus Treacy dismissed the contentions of Newry Chamber of Commerce, which objected to the development.
At the time, reacting to the ruling, Laurence and Eamon Breen said they had been "vindicated, as has the Minister".
According to developers, a survey conducted by LucidTalk said 95% of more than 1,000 people polled believed Newry would benefit from the plans.
"The result of this survey was overwhelming and illustrates the popularity of the proposal," Mr Breen said.