Planners back Ballymena retail project

Councillors deciding the fate of a new retail park outside Ballymena have been advised to back the project.

Mid and East Antrim councillors will be using new planning powers on Thursday morning when they asses the ‘Gateway Project’, which has been objected to by many local retailers.

Green Pastures Church is behind the £100 million project near Ballee, which includes plans for a church, social housing, a health centre, and a retail superstore.

Much of the project has already been given the green light, but following objections over its possible impact on Ballymena town centre, a decision on the 6100 sqm food store was deferred in January.

The church resubmitted plans for a shop of reduced size in March, and now planners have advised councillors to support the project.

Planning documents to be assessed at the council’s first planning meeting say: “Overall, given the location of the proposal within an the development limits of Ballymena, the recommendation of approval by the specialised retail unit within the Department and the possibility of a major employment boost for this area, it is recommended that this proposal be approved.”

However, a number of retail bodies remain opposed to the plans, with Ballymena’s Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) urging councillors to reject the application.

In a joint statement, president of the Chamber of Commerce Alan Stewart, and NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “Ballymena Town Centre has made great progress in recent years, being the first to vote in favour of BIDs and opening a new town centre enterprise hub.

“This proposed out of town hypermarket is a major threat to the viability of Ballymena Town Centre and will displace and destroy jobs from existing retailers.

“It will take millions of pounds out of the town centre economy and radically reduce footfall.”

“Our message to Mid Antrim Councillors is clear – get behind your local independent traders and stand up for Ballymena Town Centre.”

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