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.

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.

Marks and Spencer noted that the application would support 70 retail jobs, representing a significant investment in Coleraine.

However, despite Mr Stephens arguing that the proposal will result in the closure of the existing Marks and Spencer store at The Diamond in Coleraine, the application 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.

An addendum to the committee report 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.