Belfast Telegraph

Pictured: The flood-hit site Northern Ireland's Environment Minister said could become a major retail park

Storm Desmond caused flooding across Strabane

This is the water-logged, flooded site where Northern Ireland's Environment Minister granted a planning application for the construction of a major retail park.

Over the weekend Storm Desmond wreaked havoc across the country with heavy rainfall causing widespread flooding.

Among those impacted was the Lifford Road site in Strabane which was completely flooded and remains water logged.

Now questions have been asked after Environment Minister Mark H Durkan granted a planning application at the 'clearly identified flood plain'.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) and Strabane Chamber of Commerce has called upon the Mr Durkan to explain why he thought it was appropriate to grant the Strabane “out of town” Three Rivers application in a clearly identified flood plain in the countryside.

In a joint statement NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Robert and Strabane Chamber President Colm Gallagher said the flooding of the site "proves their point" and that Mr Durkan "overruled professional advice" to grant permission for a major retail development in the "middle of a flood plain".

It said: "Over the last number of years, both our organisations repeatedly pointed out to the Minister and Planning Service that the Three Rivers out of town retail application was completely unsuitable for retail development given its threat to Strabane Town Centre and the fact that is located on a floodplain in the countryside.

"The flooding of the entire Three Rivers site proves our point.

"Despite these significant concerns, Minister Durkan overruled the professional advice from his own Planning Officers, the views of Strabane Chamber and NIIRTA to grant permission for a major retail development in the middle of a flood plain.

“If the major retail hypermarket had already been constructed on the site it would certainly have suffered major flood damage and had significant environmental impacts on the countryside.

“Strabane Town Centre is the location for future retail development, not a flood plain in the countryside. The town is open for business and is keen to attract new retailers to help make a Strabane a 21st Century centre of retail excellence.”

Over the weekend 26 people had to be rescued during the adverse weather while the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service dealt with 37 incidents of flooding.

Mr Durkan activated an emergency scheme with immediate effect for householders affected by the deluge.

Speaking at the time he said: "Individual householders will be eligible for a £1,000 payment as an offer of practical assistance to those who have suffered severe inconvenience to ensure homes are made habitable as quickly as possible.

"I realise that it's not just homes but businesses and community buildings which can be damaged from severe flooding. That's why I'm working to try to have the scheme extended so these premises can also apply for emergency financial assistance. It is not a compensation payment."

Mark H Durkan told the Belfast Telegraph: “I have previously made clear my reasons for granting outline planning permission for a comprehensive mixed use development on this site. 

"I was fully aware that the site was outside the defined development limit of Strabane and also that it was located in a floodplain.  The planning permission does require the implementation of adequate flood mitigation measures, if the development were to go ahead.

“My decision recognised the potential significance that the development could have, not only for Strabane but the wider north west region. 

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

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