Church drops plan for urban village outside Ballymena
Evangelical property developers in Co Antrim have shelved plans for a supermarket to be built within a controversial mini-village development on the outskirts of Ballymena.
The Green Pastures Project Board, which is developing the site, had planned to pursue the construction of a new supermarket food store on a 97 acre site at Ballee.
The Gateway, described as a spiritual and social regeneration project, is the initiative of the Green Pastures church.
Plans include social housing, a hotel, car showroom, riverside restaurants, an outdoor pursuits centre, a training and education centre, student accommodation, a nursing home, an all-weather football pitch and a wedding chapel.
However Green Pastures has now revealed that it recently advised planners of its intention to no longer pursue developing a supermarket food store.
Pastor Jason Kennedy of the Green Pastures Gateway Project Team, said: "We have concluded that a large format retail superstore would no longer best serve our long term vision for the site and our desire to ensure that the site and overall project continues to develop as an asset to our town."
Looking ahead to the further development of the Gateway site, Mr Kennedy added: "In the months ahead we will be 'visioneering' the amended approach to the development of the 97 acre site and look forward to positively engaging with the Council and Planning Department in due course." The plans were promoted by the Green Pastures Church and its pastor Jeff Wright, a former Ballymena United footballer and son of newly-knighted Wrightbus founder, Sir William Wright.
A multi-million pound contract with Ballymena-based building firm Martin & Hamilton to begin construction work was signed last June.
The complex is currently under construction and expected to open for business in autumn 2019.
There had been concerns that the large-scale supermarket element of the plan would attract shoppers and leisure-seekers away from the centre of the mid-Antrim town.
But in 2015, the new Mid and East Antrim Borough Council approved scaled-down plans for the store by just five votes to four, reducing it from 6,100 square metres to 4,100sqm.
Ballymena is already home to a number of large supermarkets with Sainsburys and Tesco both operating outside the town centre, alongside Iceland and a number of smaller Costcutter and Spar outlets.
Ulster Unionist councillor Robin Cherry, President of Ballymena Borough Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: "I'm quite sure that Green Pastures has given this decision a great deal of thought and agonised over it.
"For one reason and another, the past year has been a difficult one for retailers at all levels and while this is disappointing news that the supermarket plan is not proceeding, going forward we're hopeful of more optimism in the retail sector as a whole." UUP councillor Stephen Nicholl added: "This is welcome news and a sensible recognition of the council's current planning policy.
"Any proposed development of a new supermarket in Ballymena would, as a priority, be in the town centre."
"The move comes as Ballymena counts the cost of losing a trio of long-standing fashion stores from its town centre recently.
"In just two weeks Evans, Monsoon and Miss Selfridge pulled down the shutters at their outlets in the Fairhill Shopping Centre.
"Ballymena, which has a history of high value retailing, is impacted in the same way as any other town centre by multinationals.
"The key for the local council now in terms of the town centre is seeking to attract a major supermarket to boost retailing," Mr Nicholl added.
News of the revised plan was welcomed by DUP MLA Paul Frew, who told the Ballymena Guardian: "I believe that Green Pastures have made the right decision and if they can fulfil their vision without this development then that's even better news."