Belfast Telegraph

Sainsbury's blames Northern Ireland's 'lethargic' planning system for collapsed shop plan

by David Elliott

Sainsbury's has blamed a lethargic planning system for its decision to abandon plans for a new supermarket in Dundonald.

It had been granted planning permission to develop a 60,000 sq ft store on the site of the old Rolls Royce factory in June by the then environment minister, Alex Atwood, after lodging a planning application in early March 2010.

That delay of over two years was one of the reasons cited by Sainsbury's for not proceeding with the plans.

"This is not a decision we have taken lightly, but regrettably a combination of factors, including the current economic climate, trading conditions and length of time the scheme has taken in the planning system, mean that this site is no longer a viable option for a Sainsbury's store," development manager for Northern Ireland, Andrew Sanderson, said.

The Dundonald store would have employed over 700 people on both a full and part-time basis and was part of a larger development by LagMar.

Along with a supermarket, the plans also include light industrial units and storage and distribution units.

Sainsburys' decision not to develop the site follow stern words from chief executive Justin King who, in recent weeks, railed against a lack of speed, logic and joined-up thinking in the planning process in Northern Ireland.

"The reality is, Northern Ireland is in competition with the rest of the UK for the money which supermarkets like us invest in," he said on a visit to Belfast. "Money follows opportunity and there are lots of other places in the UK where it is easier to invest and easier to deliver a return.

"That's something that has to be investigated."

While such sentiment may lose some of its impact in relation to the Dundonald site, where planning permission was indeed granted, Mr King's main frustrations lie in the delay to a decision on a planning application.

It is understood that in Britain a decision would normally be made by the relevant authority within 12 months, and even in cases where applications are appealed, a decision is mostly revealed in less than two years.

The Northern Ireland planning authorities should take note, according to Mr King.

The Department of Environment (DoE) had no comment to make on Sainsbury's decision on the Dundonald site, but hit back at claims it has been dragging its feet.

"There are numerous examples of speedy decisions which emphasise DoE's commitment, to assist business and help strengthen our economy," a spokesperson said, citing the Peace Bridge in Derry and Windsor Park Football Stadium, amongst others.

"Decisions such as these demonstrate that such applications are being handled consistently within the Programme for Government (PfG) target to ensure that 90% of large-scale investment planning decisions are made within six months and applications with job creation potential are given additional weight.

"The minister intends to make an announcement in the coming weeks of how he further intends to improve efficiency in the planning system."

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