Strabane traders' fury as minister approves out-of-town retail park
Traders in Strabane say a new retail development will sound the death-knell for the town centre.
The 50-acre development of the Three Rivers Project – which takes its name from the the confluence of the rivers Finn, Mourne and Foyle – will be based at a former border checkpoint between Strabane and Lifford in the Republic.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has been accused of ignoring his own departmental policy of promoting town centres after he gave the green light to the multi-million pound retail development.
The application falls under the controversial Article 31, which means it is so large that the decision falls solely to the minister.
Mr Durkan's announcement that he had granted permission for the development has angered the the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, which branded it "disgraceful". Strabane retailer Declan Hughes said: "This decision is utterly disgraceful and shows yet again that this minister is ignoring his own party policy and departmental policy of Town Centre First for these types of retail development.
"Local traders have pointed out that the vacant Smiths Mill site in Strabane town centre was a better option.
"Again, this was ignored by the minister.
"This decision will destroy and displace existing retail jobs from Strabane town centre, which has a vacancy rate of 30%.
"It will take £50m out of the economy."
However, the minister defended his decision and said the development had the potential to provide significant employment opportunities for the area. He added: "I have considered this application carefully as I am aware of the fundamental planning and policy issues concerning this development. However, I also recognise the potential benefits of the project.
"I am aware that Strabane is one of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland, with 44% of the population of Strabane District Council area living in deprived areas.
"I believe that any potential negative impact associated within this development will be offset in the long-term by growth in the local economy, the creation of jobs and greater wealth, inward investment and visitor spend."
Independent consultancy Turley, which led the planning and masterplanning on the 50-acre site on behalf of Riverside Building & Development, has backed the minister.
The proposed Three Rivers retail centre will include an employment park, a learning campus, a 90-bed hotel, a retail foodstore, a garden centre, petrol filling station, a children's play area, a sports and wellbeing centre, a river wildlife centre, and environmental and access infrastructure. It will be sited on land at a former cross-border security checkpoint between Strabane and Lifford known as the 'Camel's Hump'.