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Storm Desmond floods: Planned site for £50m development swamped but minister not for turning

By Lesley Houston

Published 08/12/2015

The Lifford Road site in Strabane
The Lifford Road site in Strabane

The Environment Minister has been criticised for his decision to allow a £50m retail development in a floodplain after its planned site was left under two feet of water by Storm Desmond.

Local traders' representatives said that not only was the plan at the Three Rivers site unsuitable due to the flood threat - being at the confluence of the rivers Finn, Mourne and Foyle - but also that its out-of-town location would pose too great an economic threat to Strabane town centre.

However, the group behind the proposed Lifford Road development - which includes a 90-bed hotel, supermarket, garden centre and filling station - said it remained 100% sure that its proposed measures will prevent any future flooding.

Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said retailers, including Strabane Chamber of Commerce, were adamant that the flooding proved the point of those who opposed the development, due to get under way next year.

They have accused Mark H Durkan of ignoring his own departmental policy of promoting town centre retail over out-of-town projects, describing the Three Rivers project as "completely unsuitable for retail development" both for its environmental location and its economic threat to the town centre.

Mr Durkan yesterday restating his belief in the measures to tackle the flooding problem.

The minister acknowledged the two-fold concerns of location and economic impact, and said he believed the project had the "potential to offer new employment opportunities associated with the wide range of uses and investment in infrastructure".

"This would, in time, result in growth to the local economy and offset any negative impact for Strabane," he said.

"Overall, I considered that the potential benefits were determining factors in granting planning permission."

Niall McAteer, director of the Three Rivers project, said following the weekend flooding, he had asked its team of engineers to review their proposed method of tackling the endemic issue.

"After this flooding I sought an immediate review with the engineers, a very reputable firm of engineers, APS on Boucher Road, and they are satisfied that the measures would work 100% and are confident that what they have designed is the correct approach," he said.

He said the flood prevention measures included reinforcing and recontouring lands surrounding the rivers.

He added that the problem of dealing with the excessive rainfall and its effects on the three rivers was an existing one for the town, which no other measures appeared to be in place to tackle.

Mr Roberts, however, said Strabane town centre should be the location for future retail development.

Strabane retailers believe the project will destroy existing retail jobs in the town.

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