THE possibility of creating another shopping centre on Limerick’s outskirts could turn the city centre into a “ghost town”, Fianna Fail deputy Willie O’Dea has said.
Speaking to the Limerick Leader, Deputy O’Dea said he did not share his party colleague Niall Collins’ views that any investment and job creation in Limerick is to be welcomed – if it is at the cost of other jobs.
The €100m Horizon Mall, which could create 1,500 jobs in the retail sector, was allowed to go ahead on Friday last, after years of revisions and appeals against the plans.
However, the board, which was divided on the development, has stipulated that it must be completed by August 2016 – just over 480 days away – in line with previous conditions set down by the then Limerick County Council.
“I would be very worried about what could happen to businesses in the city centre if this goes ahead. Or if it isn’t completed in time, will it become an even bigger eyesore, like out in Coonagh? The timescale does seem to be very tight.
“It’s a very, very peculiar decision in my view. Business people in the city have worked very, very hard during the recession to turn things around. Do we really want to reverse all that and turn the city centre into a ghost town? I wouldn’t like to see that obviously.
“Everyone is saying it would be great to see Marks & Spencer in Limerick, but the City Council should have been more active over the years in finding them a suitable site in the city centre.
“Is there much point creating jobs in the suburbs while destroying jobs in the city centre? That’s the real question to be asked here. I agree with anything that creates jobs in Limerick, but not if it’s going to be at the cost of other jobs. Net jobs is what we want, net increases in employment,” he said.
Limerick City and County Council issued a brief response to the announcement on Friday last, stating it is “considering” the implications of the decision by An Bord Pleanála.
“It is noted that the developer is required, because of the decision, to complete the development by August 2016,” it says, adding: “The council’s focus remains on the delivery and roll out of its 2030 economic and spatial plan for the renewal and development of metropolitan Limerick.”
Likewise, Belfast based developer Suneil Sharma – who was originally behind the Opera Centre site in the city – also issued a brief statement via a communications company.
“I am delighted at the An Bord Pleanala decision announced earlier today. I look forward to working with all stakeholders in the city to maximise the economic benefits of the Horizon Mall project and will be commenting in greater detail in the days and weeks ahead,” he said. He was due to comment in more detail this week, but no other statement had been issued by the time of going to print.
Spokepersons for both the Crescent Shopping Centre and developer Michael Tiernan of Arthur’s Quay also declined to comment on the impact any new centre could have on their respective interests.
Both Limerick mayors were also reluctant to comment. The metropolitan mayor of Limerick, Cllr Michael Sheahan, said he wished to read the 73-page report by An Bord Pleanala before making any comment, while city and county mayor Kevin Sheahan said it would be irresponsible of him to comment at this time until he learned more. Mayor Sheahan, who previously backed the development, said he did not wish to say anything that may jeopardise investment in either Limerick city or county. He told this newspaper in July of last year: “I know there is a great view that we must concentrate on Limerick [city], and I agree with this. But I would not ignore an opportunity from an investor or developer to invest anywhere in Limerick. I wouldn’t turn him away and tell him to use his chequebook elsewhere.”
Fianna Fail deputy Niall Collins has com out in favour of Horizon Mall. “The city centre argument is a red herring in my view, and we’ll be waiting forever. I don’t subscribe to the ‘group think’ that nothing can happen in Limerick until something happens in the city centre,” he said.
Deputy Collins accused the council planners of giving the developer the “runaround” in trying to block the development, and said they “should now explain themselves, as to their reasons for blocking the development having been totally overruled by An Bord Pleanála.
“We’ve had stagnation in Limerick city for a long number of years, and you have to ask yourself the question why haven’t M&S come in and snapped up a city centre location.”
The manager of the Parkway centre, Roger Beck, said if the Horizon Mall goes ahead it will be “complementary” to their operations, but his “worry is for the city centre”.
Mr Beck said in one sense “it’s a very positive development, but from the point of view of the city it’s a very negative thing”. Apart from Marks & Spencer outlining their intentions to occupy one of two main anchor units, he said he has no idea who will occupy the remaining 37 retail units.
“We don’t know what they’re putting in there. But the normal shopper isn’t going to spend €200 a week in M&S. We saw before that Superquinn didn’t get that support in Limerick. Dunnes, Lidl, Aldi - that’s where Limerick people shop.”