Over 2,600 new jobs are being jeopardised by the government's ongoing failure to grant planning permission for a £200 million shopping complex, angry developers claimed today.
The decision to refer plans for the Castlebawn commercial outlet in Newtownards to a public inquiry has denied local people much needed employment opportunities, according to the company behind the project.
Castlebawn Ltd 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.
Fearghal Eastwood from Castlebawn Ltd said he fully expected the application to be approved after they complied with a requirement to build a new £5 million access road to the site, which stretches from the town centre to the nearby airfield.
"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." he said.
"While we remain committed to Castlebawn everyone in the area should be aware of the fact that up to 2,000 new jobs which will be provided by the project remain in limbo as a result of this decision. In addition to these up to 600 construction jobs to build the Tesco unit alone are also frozen.
"We are disappointed that we have fulfilled and continue to fulfil the requirements asked of us by the various public authorities including the investment of £5m in the relief road which will be completed in a matter of months and which forms part of the agreement to develop the Castlebawn site."
He added: "The Castlebawn plans are key to the regeneration of the town and the area. The town centre around Court Street is in decay and our plan would quickly restore it, creating a very attractive and successful retail and cultural operation including a museum to celebrate the priory and other significant sites in Newtownards."
If approved, the development would be built in three phases, starting with the Tesco superstore on the site of the town's old abattoir.
This would be followed by the construction of the 300,000sq ft Castlebawn Shopping Centre and finally the 167,000sq ft Castlebawn Retail Park, which would accommodate bulky goods retail outlets.