AN BORD Pleanala was split on whether to grant the €100m Horizon Mall permission to go ahead, the Limerick Leader can reveal.
Documents released by the national planning authority this Monday show that there was a 4:3 margin in favour of the development going ahead, following the inspector’s report, which also recommended that it be granted.
The full 73-page report, which has just been made available after last week’s announcement, concludes 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 board also noted that the local planning authority has already granted an ‘extension of duration’ in the case of four previous grants of permission on site on the basis that ‘substantial works’ had been carried out.
The report from An Bord Pleanala also notes 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.
Meanwhile, the manager of the Parkway centre, Roger Beck, said if the nearby €100m Horizon Mall goes ahead it will be “complementary” to their operations, but his “worry is for the city centre”.
Speaking on Live 95FM, 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,” he said.
Mr Beck said if the new shopping centre goes ahead it should bring a boost to other parts of Limerick. “People who go to Marks & Spencer in Cork don’t just go there and come home again. They go to the English Market and other places.” He said the decision to give the go-ahead to the contentious development was “peculiar”.
But he added “it’s a legal, black and white decision to make”, especially as it was formerly granted permission by the then Limerick County Council.
However, the Belfast developer has until August 14, 2016 to complete the works - around 480 days away. “I didn’t see any men there on site this morning,” continued Mr Beck, “and they would want to be there first thing. It’s a very short time scale.”
The centre is estimated to create some 1,500 new jobs, but he, along with others, believe that any jobs created there will lead to job losses in the city centre and potentially in other shopping centres in the hinterlands.
The metropolitan mayor of Limerick, councillor Michael Sheahan, said he is waiting to see the full report from An Bord Pleanala before he makes any statement.
Fianna Fail deputy Niall Collins said he wasn’t surprised by the board’s decision, as the original permission was valid until August 2016, and he pointed out that the original plans have actually been down-scaled. Deputy Collins said he doesn’t agree with prioritising the city centre to the exclusion of everywhere else. “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.”