Traders concerned at Castlebawn green light
A new -pound;50m retail development at the historic Castlebawn site in Newtownards, has been given the green light by Environment Minister Alex Attwood - to the concern of town centre traders.
The 20,000 square metre development will straddle the Ards Town Centre boundary, with one quarter of the retail floorspace within the town centre itself.
The "mall style" element of the retail scheme will be created by converting and restoring existing 19th Century listed buildings on Court Street - part of a designated "Area of Townscape Character" within the town centre, which is badly in need of regeneration.
The scheme will also incorporate, restore and enhance public access to the historic "Bawn Wall" - a Scheduled Monument.
The development is an Article 31 planning application - deemed to be of major importance to the local economy - and follows the minister's decision last month to approve plans to extend the Ards shopping centre.
Explaining the rationale behind his decision, Alex Attwood said: "As with other Article 31 applications, I have very carefully assessed this application. Given the existing major retail offering in Newtownards, I wanted to be vigilant on how this application might impact on a town that has a great trading reputation, including in this time of double dip recession."
His positivity regarding the plans are not shared by local traders, who are concerned that the development will mean the end for Newtownards town centre.
William Gilliland, president of Newtownards Chamber of Trade told the BBC of his concerns: "It really looks as if it is starting to spell the death knell for Newtownards town centre.
"Recent talk has all been about lowering corporation tax and keeping trade within Northern Ireland, yet you have a department here that's going to welcome in loads of mainland multiples that are going to take all the money out of Northern Ireland," he added.
Trying to allay the concerns, Mr Attwood said:"I am fully aware of the views of retailers. Taken together, the regeneration, restoration and retail gains of the application, have led me to conclude in favour of and approve the application.
"This was a judgement that I came to after much thought. It is the decision that, overall, is the better way to proceed. The fact that it is an edge of town/in town development is one that can also work to protect town centre retail."
Stressing that he is keen to create jobs and develop the economy,, Mr Attwood is hopeful that the scheme will create construction jobs as well as opportunities in the retail sector.
The Minister concluded: "As with all major applications under assessment by my Department,, I intend to clear the 40 or so that remain and make decisions swiftly, but only after giving careful consideration to the individual merits of each case."