Up to 400 jobs could be created in Newtownards after the DoE granted outline planning permission for a 25-acre "mixed use" development on the edge of the town.
The ambitious project, to be built on the site of the derelict Crepe Weavers Factory on the corner of the Comber Road and Castlebawn Road, will see the creation of two nursing homes, a 100-bed hotel, a "neighbourhood centre" which will include a creche/nursery, retail units, a health centre, a bank, several hot food outlets, a petrol filling station and 96 residential units.
Because of its vast size, the planning application was judged an Article 31 – one which is of such a large scale and of such important the Environment Minister makes a decision on whether to approve or reject. That fell to Mark H Durkan who passed the application on the basis of it being a "tremendous economic and social boost for the area".
He said the mix of industrial and other types of buildings was a key factor in a positive outcome.
"A significant part of the site will be reserved for industrial purposes and the mixed use components will also generate much needed employment," he said.
"I have sought to ensure that the non-industrial units cannot proceed on their own by including a planning condition to build a number of industrial units at the outset."
The site itself was originally occupied by Crepe Weavers which employed up to 400 people at its factory off the Comber Road. It closed in 2005 and a large part of the old buildings have since been demolished.
Mr Durkan said the new site will match the old in terms of employment.
"The development has the potential to accommodate as many jobs as the factory once supported at its peak and represents the best opportunity to improve the appearance and vibrancy of the site at its gateway location on the southern edge of the town.
"The local shopping and community facilities will be used by residents within the site and beyond and will also attract visitors and benefit from passing trade."
That passing trade has been ramped up in the last two years after the development of the Castlebawn ring road, one which helped attract Tesco and a number of other retailers to a site adjacent to the new development.
In welcoming the planning approval, MLA for Strangford and Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said the development of the ring road has drawn investment to Newtownards.
"The road has opened up several sites and it proves that when the public sector invests in infrastruture then investment by the private sector will follow."
He said the development is "ambitious, will create jobs, tap into tourism potential and provide much needed industrial space for new businesses. After a few knock backs for Newtownards, this is welcome news."
Crepe Weavers produced fabrics from nylon filament yarns, especially coated fabrics used for sportswear, waterproofed garments and covers.
The development on the Crepe Weavers site will include:
* Two nursing homes
* A 100-bed hotel
* A neighbourhood centre to include a creche/nursery, retail units
* A health centre
* A bank
* Several hot food outlets
* A petrol filling station
* 96 residential units.