A £50 million extension to Ards Shopping Centre given planning permission could bring 500 construction jobs and 1,000 more in the retail sector on completion, Environment Minister Alex Attwood said yesterday.
Confirming his decision to grant permission, Mr Attwood said it was anticipated that the development would reinvigorate and breathe new life into one of the oldest shopping centres in Northern Ireland providing certainty for its future.
The two-storey extension will provide an additional 22,263 square metres of gross floorspace (11,800sqm net retail floorspace) including the introduction of a new multi-storey car park within the centre. The project will also involve the partial demolition and considerable internal reconfiguration of the existing centre.
Commenting on the latest in a series of announcements on major Article 31 applications Mr Attwood said: “This is welcome news for Newtownards.
“This will be an economic boost for Newtownards, creating many more jobs and many more shoppers to the town as well as providing much needed employment in the construction industry. Planning can be a real stimulus to the economy when proper environmental conditions have been met, a point I made very clearly at the Executive economic summit this morning.
“In taking this decision I am bringing to a conclusion a long and difficult process which has lasted nearly eight years. As with all the major retail applications currently under assessment by my department, both in Ards and in other areas in the North, I intend to clear the backlog and make decisions swiftly, but only after giving careful consideration to the individual merits of each case.
“I believe that this proposal achieves the right planning balance, and will ultimately serve to strengthen Newtownards. It will create certainty for the centre and its employees, and will result in many new job opportunities for local people.”
Speaking on behalf of centre owners Belfast Office Properties, a spokesman said the news was a welcome reward for the effort put into the application.
“The message that needs to be sent to prospective national and international tenants of large shopping centres like ours is that we can make positive planning decisions in Northern Ireland which then create the opportunity for new jobs and investment.
“That is exactly what has happened today and we are now able to look forward to making a £50m investment once the commercial negotiations are successfully concluded.”
Keith Shiells of BTWShiells, managing agents for the centre, added: “This extension provides the perfect opportunity for both existing and new tenants to take up newly-built space in this very well-located shopping centre.
“There is a long history of very successful trading at the Ards Shopping Centre with a very committed staff, an excellent tenant mix and good parking and access.
“The grant of this major planning permission is particularly significant and timely in that it removes the uncertainty over the future of Ards Shopping Centre following Tesco’s recent departure.
“The permission will generate much-needed confidence in these difficult economic times and will provide an opportunity to modernise the 30-year-old shopping centre and accommodate the up-to-date requirements of both existing and new retailers.”