A THREE day hearing at the High Court, which had been scheduled to start this Wednesday to decide the fate of the divisive €100m Horizon Mall shopping centre on the Dublin Road, has been adjourned.
The Limerick Leader has learned that the case was listed for mention today and scheduled to start in full tomorrow but due to legal reasons the judge was forced to adjourn the hearing to Friday, November 6.
The judicial review hearing is based on objections by two companies with links to another Limerick shopping centre - South West Regional Shopping Centre Promotion Association Ltd and Stapleyside Company - both of which are represented by Arthur Cox solicitors.
The case is being taken against An Bord Pleanala, which granted permission for the development earlier this year.
Both of the plaintiffs have vested interests in the Crescent Shopping Centre on the opposite side of the city’s suburbs.
The former is registered at the manager’s office at the Crescent, and its manager John Davitt is on the board of directors of both companies.
The long-running development had several years ago been granted planning permission by the then Limerick County Council, but the recently amalgamated local authority objected to the development, citing the effects it could have on businesses in the city centre.
Those behind the Crescent Shopping Centre also fear that it could decimate their trade if it is allowed to go ahead.
Under the terms set out by An Bord Pleanala, Belfast based developer Suneil Sharma, who was previously behind the Opera Centre site in the city, was given until August 2016 to complete the mammoth development.
While the development was originally granted planning permission by the then Limerick County Council, a revised application, reducing the size and scale of the development, was rejected by the amalgamated council.
Under an appeal by the applicant, Mr Sharma, An Bord Pleanala allowed it go ahead, but only under the previous proviso that it be completed by August 2016.
If built, the development on the Dublin Road is expected to house Limerick’s first Marks and Spencer, and its biggest store outside of Dublin.
Property agents and developers have been trying to woo M&S to come to Limerick since the 1970s to no avail.
Ironically, M&S had planned to take a major unit in an expansion planned for the Crescent shopping centre some years ago, but those plans were turned down by An Bord Pleanala under the strength of business opposition in the city.
Those involved in South West Regional Shopping Centre Promotion previously argued that the development should not be allowed to proceed, as it is larger than the Crescent, which too has been blamed for declining footfalls in the city centre.
Affidavits have now been served by all the parties, and while the case could be heard in November, it could be several months before a decision is handed down by the next presiding judge to be assigned.
Fianna Fail deputy Willie O’Dea earlier said that if it is built it could turn Limerick city into a “ghost town”.
However, his party colleague, Niall Collins, is not against the development, pointing to the 1,500 retail jobs it could create.
The plans include two anchor tenants as well as 37 smaller outlets, down from 75 units when the project was first mooted.
M&S was initially due to take 70,000 square feet of retail space in Horizon Mall (previously known as Parkway Valley) - but that has now risen to 100,000 square feet under the revised application.
The 73-page report by An Bord Pleanala earlier this year stated that the development “would not seriously detract from the vitality and viability of Limerick city centre”, contrary to the view of Limerick Chamber and other business interests in the city.
The development, which was first granted in July 2004, has been subject to numerous revisions and planning appeals over the past 11 years.
In fact it came before the then Limerick County Council - before it was amalgamated with the city - on six occasions.
The report also noted that a total of €2,590,922.15 has been already been paid to Limerick County Council as development contributions in relation to the permitted development.