New £15.5m retail park approved by one vote

Planning permission for the development of a major retail park at the site of the former Unipork factory in Enniskillen has been approved by one vote.

Enniskillen's distinctive castle, located on the town's central island
Enniskillen's distinctive castle, located on the town's central island

Members of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council’s Planning Committee had previously deferred a decision on the application by Elm Grange Limited for the £15.5 million investment capable of creating 450 new jobs.

Entitled ‘Lakelands Retail Park’, the earmarked Unipork site is around one mile from the town centre and has lain vacant for 20 years.

This proposal comprises six retail units, a 54-bedroom hotel, cinema, bowling alley, petrol station, food outlet and over 750 parking spaces.

The Range and Moviebowl have confirmed occupancy if the project goes ahead but planners recommended the application should be refused.

An online petition calling on councillors to go against the planners’s stance gained over 1,000 signatures.

Recommending refusal, a planning official said there would be a significant adverse impact on the trade and turnover in the town centre and its vitality and viability.

Sinn Fein councillor Tommy Maguire, proposing approval, said: “This application met most of the criteria and we were left with four reasons for refusal. The town centre of Enniskillen is very limited in size and is effectively not much bigger than the island of Enniskillen, which we are all so proud of as the only island town in Ireland.”

Querying how the application had been designated as ‘out-of-town’, he said it is under a mile from the town centre.

He added: “I know it’s not a planning consideration, but as councillors we can’t not consider the financial benefits which would potentially come for the immediate vicinity. This is something major.”

Approval was seconded by SF colleague, Anthony Feely.

Councillor Robert Irvine, Ulster Unionist, proposed members support the planning officer’s recommendation to refuse.

He said: “This site isn’t within the primary retail core, irrespective of the distance.

“My wife is a shopper and I go along with her and her friends. They find Enniskillen to be one of about four unique towns in the whole of Northern Ireland because of the tapestry of privately-owned shops that provide a service right across the board, as well as the amount of hostelries and eateries.”

With a committee vote tied, the chair, Sinn Fein Councillor Glen Campbell, supported the application, tipping the scales in favour of approval.

After the vote, Retail NI slammed the decision, saying it create “a competing town centre which will decimate what is a well-established and successful Enniskillen town centre”.