A decision to grant M&S planning permission for a new food store in Coleraine was delayed earlier this year following intervention by Retail NI.
Councillors opted to defer any decision on the 23rd February 2022 following a late objection submitted by Andy Stephens from Bangor-based Matrix Planning Consultancy on behalf of Retail NI.
The proposed application for the amalgamation of units 12 and 13 and a 17,100 sq ft food hall at 17 Riverside Centre had been recommended for approval until the late objection was received.
In an email, sent in the early hours of Wednesday 23rd February, Andy Stephens called for a "period of deferral" to enable the committee to reflect very seriously in relation to the "gravity of the decision they were about to take".
Planning officer Shane Mathers told committee members the points of objection raised were that the application should have been re-advertised, that Coleraine town centre is on its knees with a vacancy rate of 20% and that there are preferable sites at JJB, Hanover Place, Coleraine and also Meetinghouse Street, Ballymoney.
Mr Mathers added, that the applicant, Marks and Spencer, had expressed their ‘extreme disappointment at the verbal objection made during a telephone call to the Planning Principal on February 16.
M&S also stated they had worked closely with the council planners over a nine-month period, undertaking three months of extensive Pre Application Community Consultation.
They added that the objector had not followed due process and had adequate time to submit a written objection to the proposals.
The major multinational noted that the application would support 70 retail jobs, representing a significant investment in Coleraine.
However, despite Mr Stephens further arguing that the proposal shall result in the closure of the existing Marks and Spencer store at The Diamond in Coleraine, the application due to be heard next week, 25th May 2022 is recommended for approval.
He argues that such closure would have a negative effect on Coleraine Town Centre by reason of vacancy and the loss of the store to the Town Centre.
As part of an addendum added to the committee report it says "He contended that the Council, in the event of approval, could require the existing store to remain open by means of a Planning Agreement. Whether the existing store would close is a matter of speculation. If it were to close, the unit could be occupied by another retailer. Even if it were not to be occupied by another retailer in the longer term, the addition of one vacant store would not result in a substantial change to the level of vacancy in Coleraine Town Centre which is currently 17.1%. While retention of the existing store is desirable, it is not critical to the acceptability of the proposal. Therefore, a Planning Agreement is not essential."
The recommendation is to approve the application at the Planning Committee next Wednesday.