Job loss fears over B&M planning row
LOCAL councillors have voiced their fears over the future of jobs at the B&M store in Antrim if the business is forced to close following a row over planning permission.
The store has been operating at the Junction One retail complex for a number of months and submitted retrospective plans for a change of use to allow mixed retailing at the unit they operate from last June.
The plans came before Antrim Council’s Public Services Committee last Thursday, with the Planning Service signalling their intention to issue a refusal - and possibly mean the store would have to close with the loss of over 30 jobs.
In refusing the retrospective plans, planners noted that the proposal was contrary to the approved use at this location as a factory outlet centre.
Planners stated: “The continuing class A1 retail use at this out of centre location would set a precedent for loss of space for the outlet centre, which would have a detrimental impact on the outlet centre and the vitality and viability of Antrim town centre.”
The planning application was also refused on the grounds it was contrary to Planning Policy in that “suitable alternative town centre sites as defined in the Antrim Area Plan are available for retail use”.
It was added: “If permitted, the continued retail use would result in a significant loss of investment in Antrim town centre, have a detrimental impact on the vitality and viability of Antrim town centre and would undermine convenience and shopping in Antrim town centre.”
Despite planners signalling their intention to refuse the plan - as well as one letter of objection from the Castle Mall - Antrim councillors called for an urgent meeting with planners to try and reach a way forward that would safeguard jobs.
Speaking at Thursday’s meeting, Councillor Adrian Watson said he could understand the reasoning behind Planning Service’s decision to refuse the plans, but added that it didn’t make it the right decision.
“How is it in the public interest to refuse this when the retail sector at Junction One and the town centre is on its knees,” Cllr. Watson said.
Describing Antrim town centre as a “building site”, and traffic wardens deterring customers from coming into the town, Cllr. Watson said he thought it was “ludicrous” to force the closure of a shop which could lead to the loss of jobs.
“I appreciate we want to support our town centre as a shopping location but there needs to be some common sense on this particular occasion,” Cllr. Watson said.
He added: “B&M were originally at the Castle Mall, they’re not going to move back.”
Cllr. Watson also queried the use of planning policy in the refusal, specifically the reference to the Antrim Area Plan.
“The thing we are forgetting about is the Antrim Area Plan was prepared years ago and is out of date,” Cllr. Watson said.
He added: “It’s well passed it’s sell by date and is irrelevant in todays market place and retail sector.”
However, Councillor Neil Kelly - chair of Antrim Town Development Company - said while he agreed with Cllr. Watson’s comments over the loss of jobs, the matter needed to be “looked at sensibly”.
“I do worry there could be a precedent set with other businesses setting up at Junction One in breach of the current regulations,” Cllr. Kelly said.
He added: “We are in difficult times for our town centre traders, some of which have been there for generations.
“This will have an impact on them.”
Cllr. Kelly’s comments were seized upon by Cllr. Trevor Clarke who pointed out that ATDC had allowed a town centre shop to be converted into an office.
Cllr. Kelly replied that ATDC had it was felt that the office would “perhaps bring more footfall to the town” and they had agreed to the conversion.
Cllr. Noel Maguire said the issue of potential job losses was what mattered most.
“I know we have to strike a balance between the town centre and Junction One,” Cllr. Maguire said.
But, he added: “We have to think of the potential job losses; it’s my understanding that there are 35 people employment [at B&M].
“I think that in itself needs to be looked at very carefully to see what, if any wriggle room there is regards to the legislation.”
Cllr. Paul Michael also expressed concern over job losses and said it was a “very sad day when any business had to close”.
He also pointed out that B&M had originally been located at the Castle Mall before moving to Junction One.
Ald. Sam Dunlop pointed out the closeness of Junction One to the town centre and that they are “within walking distance” of each other.
He also voiced concerns over the potential job losses as did fellow Alderman Drew Ritchie.
Cllr. Trevor Clarke noted that the only objection to the planning application had been from the Castle Mall.
“I think they [the Castle Mall] have a responsibility to do more to encourage people to the town and more to encourage people back to the centre,” Cllr. Clarke said.
He added: “I think the current owner of the Castle Mall needs to do more to attract businesses to the empty units; perhaps they should be lowering their prices.”
Cllr. Kieran McMullan also voiced concerns over the number of empty units, both in the town centre and at Junction One.
In relation to trying to support local businesses, Cllr. Alan Lawther highlighted a scheme in Newtownabbey in which businesses had been mentored by retail experts and asked if it was something that be could considered in the Antrim area.
Cllr. Pam Brown said she had knowledge of the mentoring scheme and had written to the council previously on the same issue.
Councillors agreed that the Planning Service’s decision to refuse the application should be deferred to allow members to meet with planners.
Planning Officer Johanne McKendry agreed to councillors’ request for the matter to be deferred to allow an office meeting between councillors and planning officials.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Antrim
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: South west
Temperature: 12 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: South east