There was a resounding welcome on Thursday for a large new service station – which will be the first of many across the Province.
The Applegreen motorway stop off the M2 near Templepatrick is the first foray the Irish brand has made into Northern Ireland.
It was officially launched on Wednesday, and on Thursday morning there was no shortage of customers.
Chris Parkinson a 46-year-old solicitor from Manchester (whose wife’s family are from Co Armagh), said he had pressed into visiting the station by two under-11 children in the car – adding that the play area was a particular draw for them.
“I think it’s fantastic. As a family, we’ve been going to Applegreens in the south on travels all the way down to Dublin.
“The kids love stopping there, and just as we were coming down here [they] saw the Applegreen sign and wanted to come in.”
Asked what the difference was between it and any other roadside service stops, he said: “The facilities. It’s clean, modern. There’s plenty of selection. It’s not just one little outlet. It’s numerous different things – shops selling different kinds of coffee.”
This reporter remarked that it was perhaps unusual to hear such praise for what basically seems to be a large petrol station.
He replied: “I didn’t buy petrol! It’s more just like a stop – something to eat and drink; a bit of a break on the journey.”
Pearse Tumelty, a 60-year-old retired nurse from Downpatrick, said: “I’ve been down south and seen them on the motorways. They’re a handy place to stop, there’s definitely no doubt about. They’re certainly very welcome in the north.”
Jan Campbell, a 42-year-old self-employed jeweller from Newtownards, was also full of praise for the stop.
“If you fancy a cup of tea or something it saves you having to find a town,” said Mrs Campbell. There’s no mucking about – you’re straight there.”
James Williams, a 30-year-old holidaymaker from Dundalk, said: “We have them down the south, on both sides of the motorways. It’s a lifesaver. You don’t have to veer off into towns and traffic and all that.”
That being the case, The News Letter asked Mervyn Rea – UUP Newtownabbey councillor, representing the Templepatrick area – if he had any concerns for businesses in the town.
He said it was much easier for drivers of HGVs to stop at Applegreen than to navigate in to a Templepatrick petrol station.
As for any impact it may have on town traders, he said: “Competition is the spice of life. We’ve got to allow for competition. I’d see it as a slightly different service... I can’t really say anything against it.”
The boss of the Applegreen motorway stations across the island of Ireland said they are already thinking beyond the four sites they have planned for the Province at present.
One is planned on the opposite side of the M2 to the newly-opened one, with another two planned for the M1.
Asked if they were going to stop at four, Matthew Scally said: “No, definitely not.”
He added there are already scores across the mainland UK, adding: “We’re always looking for new locations.”
The UK stations are spread all over England and Wales, but there are none in Scotland.
There are 75 staff working at the new Templepatrick station – around four-fifths of those in full-time roles.
Once the Greggs bakery opens inside, the station will have six defferent places to buy food, and he said the brand had “raised the bar” for what travellers can expect from a service station.
On the subject of why it has taken until now to come to the Province, he said: “It’s probably just getting locations for them.”
Joe Curran, 38 and from Carlow, works as a duct cleaner on Applegreen stations in the Republic.
He was pleased at the chance for more work which they may bring.
He said: “It’s very impressive to see Applegreen exanding so much in the north.
“They’ve made a big impact on the south.”