Row over out-of-town development
One of Northern Ireland's most expensive developments will harm town centre traders, it has been claimed.
A £350 million scheme which would include a hotel, out-of-town shopping centre, offices, health and leisure facilities in Omagh, Co Tyrone, has been granted outline planning permission.
It is planned for a Derry Road site near a former military base. However Glyn Roberts, Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) chief executive, said it could actually cost jobs over five years.
"While we welcome many aspects of this application and the investment it will bring, we have serious reservations about the impact the proposed 60,000 sq ft out-of-town hypermarket will have on Omagh town centre," he said.
"I cannot understand why the Planning Service rejected similar out-of-town applications in Banbridge, Larne and Ballyclare - but not Omagh. It has clearly been shown in many other towns and cities the damage that out-of-town retailing does to town centres. There is clear evidence that out-of-town multiple superstores lead to a net loss of jobs within five years and the closure of town centre retailers as we have recently seen in Larne."
Work on the proposal, Opportunity Omagh, has been ongoing for several years.
The company behind the scheme is GML Estates, a Guernsey-based firm owned by businessman John Farmer. It developed the Outlet shopping centre in Banbridge, Co Down, and is planning several other retail projects in Northern Ireland. An education campus is also planned for the site on the former Lisanelly Army base and it will be linked to Opportunity Omagh and the town centre by a riverside walkway.
The earmarked land in the west of the town stretches from the Derry Road roundabout to the Strathroy housing estate, crossing the Strule River.
Development in the area had been hampered because of security concerns linked to Lisanelly barracks.
Declan McAleer, Omagh district chairman, said: "This will strengthen the regional position of Omagh and it will help us edge forward towards our aspiration for city status by 2025. It will create jobs and help the economic potential and the developers are committed to local procurement and local employment."