A PUBLIC protest is due to be held in Ballycastle next week by people who are angry that planners are minded to ‘refuse’ permission for a Tesco store, writes Nevin Farrell.

A call has been made for supporters of a Leyland Road Tesco to make a ‘final big push’ in a bid to get the refusal opinion overturned.

Pro-Tesco campaigner Martin McCormick issued the rallying cry ahead of a meeting of Moyle Council planned for next Monday night, June 27.

At the Council meeting in Sheskburn House at Ballycastle seafront, councillors will meet with planners who are of the opinion to refuse permission for a Tesco store at Leyland Road.

Councillors are only consulted on the matter by planners and the final decision is up to planners but councillors will have the power to defer the matter for a period if they so wish.

Martin McCormick says it is important that a majority of councillors back deferring the planners’ recommendation and after that if a refusal is still the decision of planners it could be appealed or an approach is made to the Department of Environment Minister Alex Attwood to intervene.

Mr McCormick said: “It is time for the people of Ballycastle who want this Tesco store to come to Leyland Road to stand up and be counted. If we don’t get big numbers to this it will be dead in the water.

“If people feel strongly about bringing a Tesco store to Leyland Road they have to get out there and show their support and as such we will muster outside the Council offices at 6pm on Monday June 27 ahead of the Council meeting starting at 7pm,” said Mr McCormick.

The whole Tesco issue has split opinion in Ballycastle. The Chamber of Commerce and those who fear a Leyland Road Tesco will destroy small businesses in Ballycastle town centre succeeded in getting thousands of people to sign petitions.

Paul Cochrane, head of Ballycastle Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the opinion to refuse Leyland Road and is now calling on Tesco to engage with traders and local people about coming to a smaller site in Ballycastle town centre.

He believes there may be scope for such a site, with a planning application in for 15,000 square ft premises at Station Road in the middle of the town.

Tesco had applied to build a supermarket on lands between Leyland Heights, Ramoan Road and Leyland Road along with houses.

But planners are of the opinion to refuse it on the grounds that the “proposal is contrary to the Department’s Planning Policy Statement 5 Retailing and Town Centres in that the development, if permitted, would have an adverse impact on the vitality and viability of Ballycastle town centre, a designated Conservation Area and undermine its convenience shopping function.”

Planners further said: “The proposal is contrary to the Joint Ministerial Statement of 31st January 2005 on the grounds of

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prematurity as the Draft Northern Area Plan 2016 has reached an advanced stage of preparation, and the effect of an approval for this proposal for retail use on a zoned Housing (Urban Capacity) site, BEH 13, would be prejudicial to the outcome of the plan process by pre-determining decisions about the scale and location of new development which should properly be taken through the development plan process.”

Speaking to the Times on Friday, planners said the total responses received, in support of the application included 1,035 individual letters and two petitions of support which consisted of a total of 829 names.

And against the Leyland Road site, there were 39 individual letters and three petitions of objection which consisted of a total of 3,045 names.

A DoE spokesman said: “The application is on the agenda for the next meeting of Moyle District Council on 27th June with an opinion to refuse.

“If the council disagree with this opinion and the application is deferred a further meeting will be held as part of the re-consideration of the proposal before a final decision is made.

“If the ultimate decision is to refuse, the applicants have a right of appeal to the Planning Appeals Commission.”

A spokesperson for Tesco said: “We are extremely disappointed that the planners are minded to refuse this store, particularly as there has been such strong support from across the local community. The store would have created approximately 100 new full and part-time positions generating around £1 million in local wages.

“We commissioned a Millward Brown Ulster Household Survey in July 2008 which found that more than 65% of the district’s shoppers leave the area to do their main food shopping. Our proposed store with more than 130 new car parking spaces is a short walk to the town centre and could help keep people shopping in the town, boosting local trade.

“Local people and local businesses have given great support for our proposal and will no doubt feel a real sense of disappointment,” said the spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Martin McCormick told the Times this week: “The number of people signing the petition against Leyland Road is misleading in my opinion because people were asked to sign a petition called ‘Save Our Town Centre’ and many people may have signed that instead of putting their name to something that should have referred to Tesco.

“But there were over 1,800 people who said they would like Tesco to come to Leyland Road and we want to muster that support at the Council offices on Monday June 27. If this protest doesn’t work, bringing a big Tesco store to Leyland Road will be dead in the water.

“I’m putting my neck on the line to support Tesco coming to Leyland Road and we need the people to come out and show their feelings,” said Mr McCormick.

Earlier this year Mr McCormick had toyed with the idea of standing for Moyle Council on a Leyland Road Tesco ticket but he decided not to and instead urged people to vote for Independent councillor Seamus Blaney who is also backing the campaign.

In recent years Ballycastle pensioner Matty McNeill staged an impromptu meeting on the Tesco issue at her home and Mr McCormick said she is “gutted” at the refusal opinion.

Mr McCormick said people were so angry at the Tesco refusal opinion that many people’s first reaction when he told them was to swear.

“People are devastated and people would like to know where the 3,000 names who signed the anti-Tesco petition came from? There must have been many tourists who signed it.”

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) and Ballycastle Chamber of Commerce welcomed the planners’ recommendation. NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “If this store had gone ahead, it would have resulted in the closure of a number of family-owned town centre businesses and the net loss of over 100 jobs.

“The place for such store development should be in a town centre location rather than in unsustainable out-of-town locations. We hope that Moyle Council will also give their support to this decision.”

Paul Cochrane, chairman of the Ballycastle Chamber of Commerce, said: “We hope Tesco will use this opportunity to engage with the local business community and bring a Tesco Express to the town centre, which would add to the overall retail offer of Ballycastle.”

Mr Cochrane told the Times the situation all along with the Chamber has been the size and location of the store.

He said: “Since this Leyland Road debate started there has been a terrible spectre hanging over the shops of the town. We hope this decision will give the shops confidence to invest in their businesses and I hope Tesco will genuinely engage the Chamber about a town centre location.”

He made reference to a planning application regarding a 15,000 square ft business premises at Station Road which he believed would be an ideal location for a smaller Tesco store.

Supporters of the Leyland Road store say it would stop many people leaving Ballycastle to do their main weekly shop in towns like Ballymoney and Coleraine but Mr Cochrane said even if a large Tesco did come to Leyland Road people would still go to Coleraine to visit stores like TK Maxx, etc.

Regarding the number of people signing the anti-Leyland Road petition, Mr Cochrane said they were all genuine names.

Cllr Seamus Blaney said many people were disappointed at the refusal opinion.

“Going by the number of phone calls I received people are disgusted but I am confident the Council will defer the matter for further consideration.”

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, said: “The announcement to refuse the application by Tesco for a development in Ballycastle opens the way for a fresh approach to redevelop and move forward the needs of this town and its shopping centre.

“I have made it clear that I am not opposed to a new shopping centre in the town but I would like to make sure that any centre takes account of the needs of the existing town both in scale and provision.

“A fresh look for a town centre site is in the interests of all and I trust this will now happen,” he said.

North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay said his party will continue to work to secure inward investment into Ballycastle.

He was speaking after a decision was announced in regard to a Tesco application but he added that other opportunities for major retail developments exist.

Mr McKay said: “There is no doubt that the public would like to see a major supermarket invest in Ballycastle and I believe that there are clearly still opportunities to secure that. We are committed to working with interested parties to secure this and to ensure that it complements the town of Ballycastle.

“That means that the creation of new jobs by such a development should not have a major adverse impact on the number of existing jobs and businesses in the town.

“I will continue to work to secure the provision of a major retailer to Ballycastle and believe the opportunities are there to realise what would be a major boost to the local economy,” said Mr McKay.