Belfast Telegraph

Antrim Christian charity fights to keep shop open after council blocks plans

Blythswood Ireland CEO Gary Anderson and shop assistant Paula McCullough inside the charity shop in Antrim
Blythswood Ireland CEO Gary Anderson and shop assistant Paula McCullough inside the charity shop in Antrim

By Gillian Halliday

A Christian charity has vowed to fight to keep one of its stores open after a Northern Ireland council refused its planning application.

Blythswood Ireland, which sells second-hand furniture, helps disadvantaged people across Northern Ireland and in eastern Europe.

However, it could be forced to close its store in Antrim.

Gary Anderson, chief executive of the charity, warned the future of the store is in doubt after Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council refused to grant it retrospective planning permission.

The issue centres on a planning application submitted to request a change of use for the Blythswood Ireland store - operating on its present site on the Greystone Road - from the previous business, a car sales showroom.

Mr Anderson said the planning committee's decision means the charity may be forced to shut down the store as the current site is the one which "best fits its needs".

A council spokesperson said the planning application was turned down because it did not demonstrate that a site within the local town centre was not suitable for Blythswood.

However, Mr Anderson said that the charity's "unique requirements" made a town centre location "completely unworkable".

"Our business model is to locate in a position that facilitates easy car parking for the dropping off and picking up of furniture and bulky items and this works successfully in many of our locations, including Antrim," he added.

"We also require a sizeable storage facility beside the shop to restore the furniture and place it for sale."

He revealed the charity has now submitted an appeal to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC).

"Our hope is that the PAC (will) reverse this bitterly disappointing decision," the charity chief added.

"We believe passionately that we have a location that works for the local community, works for our charitable aims and works for the council in re-using and recycling pre-loved furniture and other items."

Mr Anderson said the store also facilitates the storage and distribution of its annual shoebox appeal, which distributes 15,000 shoe boxes of essential items in eastern Europe.

He claimed the Blythswood Ireland charity was helping the council by recycling thousands of tonnes of material that could have ended up in its civic amenity facility - opposite the store's site.

"This was one of the reasons why the charity chose this location," Mr Anderson explained.

He said the fight to keep the store open at its current site has secured widespread backing in the community.

"Our bid to overturn this decision has received a lot of support from local political representatives and from members of the public," he revealed.

"We would like to tell everyone that we are still open for business and fighting this decision every inch of the way."

A council spokesperson confirmed the charity's application had been "recently refused" by the planning committee, explaining it had been rejected "on the basis that it had not been demonstrated that a suitable site did not exist for this use within Antrim town centre or other retailing centre in Antrim town".

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