Green Pastures: Evangelical church ‘super village’ plan for Ballymena under threat as key foodhall is rejected
An evangelical church's plans for a new 97-acre development on the outskirts of Ballymena could be in jeopardy after planners rejected a supermarket seen as key to the scheme.
The Gateway project at Ballee would provide a business park, training, social and student housing, a nursing home, a church, hotel and retail premises.
Opponents of the scheme say it will take trade away from the town centre - which is already suffering from low occupancy rates.
Planners carried out a shopping analysis of the town and it is understood the results of their investigation have been central to the recommendation to provisionally refuse part of the application.
Green Pastures, an evangelical church behind the project, applied for permission for a mixed-use hub of businesses on the site including a food superstore, petrol station, drive-thru restaurant, entertainment centre, health centre, taxi office and car parking.
The application attracted 29 objections and one letter of support from the Wright Group. The planners' decision will be put to Ballymena Borough Council next week.
In its reasons for refusal, Planning Service said: "The proposed food superstore element of the scheme does not meet the locational requirements of the department's planning policy statement 5, 'Retailing and Town Centres', in that it is likely to have an adverse impact on the vitality and viability of Ballymena town centre and undermine its comparison and convenience functions."
Planners have approved the remainder of the scheme, including more than 200 houses, a 60-bed hotel and 40-bed nursing home.
A new church and leisure facilities have also been given the provisional go-ahead. A spokeswoman for the church scheme yesterday said those behind the venture were disappointed with the initial refusal of the superstore plans.
"The Gateway project board welcome the approval and support of the recommended aspects of this project, namely the church building, community buildings and recreation areas and the housing aspect including nursing home, elderly care housing, supported/independent living housing, special needs housing and student accommodation as well as the training centre, hotel, self-catering accommodation, business and social economy parks and hotel," she said.
"However, we are disappointed with the recommendation for refusal on the foodstore aspect. Retail assessments have indicated that Ballymena town can support a third foodstore and with this aspect comes the provision of hundreds of jobs to locals as well as many financial benefits to the town and borough of Ballymena as a whole.
"Ballymena Borough Council now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to defer this decision to refuse the outline retail planning application in order to allow further detailed discussions to take place between us to understand the issues.
"We believe it essential that further discussions are had on such an important regionally significant development as this refused element is key to the viability or the overall proposal, key to its social investment, key to new jobs and key in being able to meet the requirements of Ballymena economic development strategy."
The plans have been dubbed Project Nehemiah, named after the Old Testament figure who rebuilt Jerusalem.
The scheme has been funded by a partnership involving the Wright Group - which makes London's double decker buses in a factory in nearby Galgorm - local businesses and an anchor retail tenant. It has also been part-funded by the sale of the Green Pastures church. The old premises of the church - led by Pastor Jeff Wright, son of Wright Group founder William - will become the new headquarters of the manufacturing company, while the church will move out to the Ballee land parcel it bought for £4m.