A two-year bid by Home Bargains to open a £5 million store in Lurgan – creating 75 new jobs – could be about to reach a successful conclusion for the discount retailer, Armagh I can reveal.
An application for the development – submitted back in 2018 – will be recommended for approval when it goes before Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council next week.
This comes despite assertions that the development – which falls into the ‘major’ application category – was not suitable and that the chosen location would take shoppers away from Lurgan town centre.
But the applicant – through an agent – submitted a scathing response to an independent review conducted by Belfast-based TSA Planning.
Curleys Properties Ltd has been behind the successful planning proposals for other Homes Bargains stores across Northern Ireland.
In responding to the claims and opinions in the review on Curleys behalf, Inaltus Ltd, in its own retail study, says turning down the plans for a new store would be to do a “complete disservice” to the people of Lurgan.
And it also argued against suggestions that Home Bargains could locate to the former Tesco site in the town essentially saying: “If it’s not good enough for Tesco it’s not good enough for us!”
The proposed site – as revealed by Armagh I back in November 2018 – is on vacant lands north of Millennium Way. It is a former industrial area and a site for which housing was previously approved and the new development would see a pedestrian link from Shaerf Drive.
Curleys Properties Ltd at the time said it will “revitalise this area of Lurgan” and act as a “further catalyst for the wider development” of Millennium Way.
Indeed, the development would see the provision of over 2,300 sq metres of retail space and form part of the Millennium Way Retail Park.
The first unit – a supermarket – will be 1,393 sq metres and has now been officially confirmed as Home Bargains. Its parent company TJ Morris has written a letter to ABC Council calling for the application to be approved.
The second – 929 sq metres – is for an as yet unnamed “bulky retail warehouse style operator”.
A total of 147 car parking spaces – as well as 18 disabled bays – are included in the plans.
There has been much consultation in the intervening period and the applicant had been urged to look at alternative locations.
The review by TSA Planning had said the “ex-Tesco site in particular provides options for reuse and redevelopment”.
It adds: “The council should be aware that a decision to rule out this site as sequentially preferable for a mixed-use supermarket and bulky unit on the basis of servicing or exclusive parking access could set a precedent for other retail proposals in Lurgan.
“The creation of such a precedent could be considered to be contrary to the LDP aims and strategy to facilitate appropriate development within the town centres that will promote urban renaissance, create ease of access to services and community facilities, and to maximise the use of existing infrastructure to facilitate a level of overall commercial growth in the town centres.”
TSA references correspondence from Home Bargains which states that a need has been identified in Lurgan.
But the review states: “Given the town has Poundstretcher and B&M have now opened at Castle Lane the case made for qualitative need requires re-evaluation.
“It is not unreasonable that those wishing to exclusively avail of the mixed use offer in Home Bargains can travel to their stores in Craigavon and Portadown which are only c 2.8m and 6.3m respectively.”
Inaltus – on behlf of the applicant – hits back at this suggestion and describes it as “concerning”.
It states in its response: “It is a wholly unsustainable suggestion and appears to encourage people to leave Lurgan to do their shopping in Craigavon and Portadown. This increases car journeys and congestion on road.
“Lurgan is equal status to both Craigavon and Portadown and it is a complete disservice to Lurgan to suggest that a retailer is unwelcome and that shoppers can use their stores in competing towns.”
Inaltus also dismissed suggestions that the Tesco site – or any other – would be more suitable as they are too small for the proposed development. It says the applicant has a minimum requirement for 1,394s q m and the developer has a minimum requirement for a bulky goods retail warehouse of 929 sq m.
Inaltus adds: “The council are equally seeking for the application to be reduced, which Home Bargains have confirmed to be unacceptable as 1,394sq m is the minimum size requirement and the council wish Home Bargains to locate in the old Tesco store – which the TSA would class as a main food retailer.
“It is wholly contradictory to suggest Home Bargains should locate in an old Tesco supermarket site and at the same time describe it as a top up destination.
“TSA say Home Bargains do not have a freezer offer. This is incorrect.”
Inaltus also says that Tesco moved away from the site to “improve its servicing arrangements” and added: “If this site did not suit Tesco’s servicing requirements, there are no grounds for TSA to suggest it will suit Home Bargains.”
The agent submission points out that the application has required the submission of full Transport Assessment, Drainage Assessment, Construction Environmental Management Plan and Noise Assessment and the council was paid a planning application fee of over £11,000.
Inaltus conceded that some of the TSA aspects can be agreed but then added: “Other aspects are illogical and do not form a sound basis to refuse the proposal on, and when assessed show the only logical conclusion is that there is no retail impact and a clear need for the proposal.”
It urges council to bring the application before its planning committee, pointing out as it does: “There has been no objections to this application in over 18 months.
“There is no consultee objection and the council have now three times been provided with evidence that clearly shows that the proposal is compliant with retail planning policy.”
Plannners are now to do just that – bring the matter to the planning committee.
And Wednesday’s meeting will be given a recommendation to approve.
It will, however, be up to councillors whether or not to endorse that opinion and allow development to proceed.