A largely-defunct piece of the Province’s industrial heritage is to be turned over to flats and offices.
The intention is to turn the Kelly Fuels site on Bank Road, Larne, into a waterfront housing development, along with a hotel, restaurants and cafes, plus small business units which could be let out to IT companies.
The site – which is one of the first things to be seen by visitors arriving into the town along the picturesque coastal road – has historically been used to import coal from mainland UK, and the firm’s boss John Colgan said their ships were also involved in the Larne gun-running as well.
He added that the town had probably been the largest coal-importation point for the entire island of Ireland in its heyday, and they intend to erect a statue to mark the site’s industrial past whenever they begin transforming it.
However, that could take some time.
The proposals which have been granted are only “outline plans”, and before anything is actually built another, detailed planning application would need to be put forward.
Mr Colgan, general manager of John Kelly Fuels (Ireland), said there is no timeframe for doing this.
He said: “In the medium-term I think it would be our aspiration to start piecemeal developing the site; because obviously it’s a big development, a huge development in its totality.
“The economics, such as they are at the moment, wouldn’t justify doing the whole thing in one go.”
He said he also wants the nearby cliffs to be turned into mountain bike and walking trails too.
Howden Bros, later owned by Kelly, had been importing coal to the area since the mid-19th century.
But the site has been left behind by the kind of economies of scale now needed to make shipping profitable.
Mr Colgan said that today it is “really uneconomic to bring in less than 4,000 tons of coal at a time,” and that their imports now come into Lisahally in Londonderry.
Some of the buildings on the planning site did receive a cosmetic brush-up in the run-up to the Giro d’Italia.
Nonetheless, DUP town councillor Winston Fulton said the area had long been an “eyesore”, whilst the UUP’s Mark McKinty said: “The Howden’s Quay area has been derelict for some time at one of the main entrances to Larne town, despite its development potential.”
There is a fuel depot on the Larne site now, trading under the name of Howden’s, but this occupies only a small fraction of the space covered by the plans.