BELFAST based developer Suneil Sharma is anxiously awaiting a decision from An Bord Pleanala this Friday to determine if his €100m shopping centre on the Dublin Road will go ahead.
Speaking to the Limerick Leader this week, Mr Sharma said he was reluctant to say anything in advance of the decision, except that “we have submitted a very robust appeal and planning application.
“I can do no more. Of course you’re always hopeful - I’ve spent three and a half years at this - but I’m not counting any chickens yet,” he said.
If granted, the development could see Marks & Spencer opening their first flagship outlet in Limerick - which they recently confirmed is still their intention - but many businesses in the city are opposed to the development, which they fear could further decimate footfall in the centre.
Mr Sharma had sought to modify the plans to the partially built site, originally known as Parkway Valley and renamed as Horizon Mall.
Amended plans for the stalled site were turned down by the amalgamated Limerick City and County Council last year, but the original plans were granted by the then county council. Thirteen objections, representing more than 60 businesses in the city and surrounding areas, had been lodged against the plans at local level. His revised plans include two anchor tenants - one being Marks and Spencer’s largest store outside Dublin - as well as 37 smaller outlets, down from 75 units when the project was first mooted.
Marks and Spencer were initially due to take 70,000 square feet of retail space - but that has now risen to 100,000 square feet under the revised application.
“The project represents one of the largest ever private sector investments in the Limerick area, and will create 1,500 retail jobs and 500 construction jobs, “ Mr Sharma said.
His larger plans for the site were granted by the then Limerick County Council in 2007, but the current planning permission under this application lapses in 2016.
At this week’s metropolitan district council meeting, there was a call on the local authority to acquire the Dublin Road land under a Compulsory Purchase Order with a view to developing the site for community use. Anti-Austerity Alliance councillor Cian Prendiville said: “We cannot simply wait around for the next five or six years on what is the biggest eyesore in the city. If it is rejected, we need to be in a position to quickly move to bring it into public ownership and develop it for community purposes”.
However, meetings administrator Eugene Griffin, in a written reply, told the northside councillor it would be “premature” for the authority to act until An Bord Pleanala makes a decision on the appeal, and as Mr Sharma’s original planning permission expires in August 2016.
Sinn Fein’s city east councillor Seighin O’Ceallaigh said the majority of 50 residents he surveyed in the neighbouring Castletroy View estate would be in favour of developing the site.
Some 35 householders want the site developed, with 10 favouring demolition, and the remainder not minding so long as something is done.
“They have had to put up with this for years. It is an eyesore on the Dublin Road, but it is an even worse view from the inside. A few residents have said the site is a hub for anti-social behaviour,” he said.