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Allowing retail centre akin to welcoming factory ship

FRESH opposition has been expressed to plans for a proposed retail development on the outskirts of Ennis. A recent submission prepared for Ennis Chamber and submitted to the planning authority insists, “If one wanted to design a retail development which was likely to bring no benefit whatever to the town centre it would be hard to find a better way of doing it than what is being proposed.”
The developers behind the proposal have made a number of changes to the original plans following a request for further information from the planning authority Ennis Town Council.
This further information was deemed to be significant by the planning authority and the applicant Michael Lynch Ltd was requested to publish a public notice.
Submissions in relation to the further information have now been received by Ennis Town Council from a number of parties, including residents groups, business organisations and local businesses.
Among the revisions made to the plans for the site on the Limerick Road and Tobarteascain Road are proposals for the provision of access directly onto the Limerick road, alternative options for access onto Tobarteascain road, the removal of kiosks and the suggestion that part of the ground floor could be put to community use.
Responding to the further information received, Michael Leahy in a submission on behalf of Ennis Chamber, who have been highly vocal in their opposition to the plans, states, “Ennis Chamber are more intent in their assertion that the proposal is likely to cause significant damage to the economic health and well being of the town of Ennis.”
Concerns about the possibility of a doughtnut effect were raised. According to the submission, retail provision in Ennis is in excess of capacity and the provision of an out of town centre would be “ruinous for the many small traders who have given Ennis its unique character and maintained its local economy.”
A survey carried out by Ennis Chamber on September 4, 2011 indicated 44 vacant premises in the town centre, excluding Parson’s Quay.
“This alarming level of vacancy represents an approximate vacant area in the ground floor premises of the town centre at some 3,600 square metres,” the report states. It was also pointed out that the Mid-West Retail Strategy was carried out “before the worst affects of the current recession were felt”.
“The proposal to provide for a major out of town retail centre at a time when vacancy rates are at levels which have not been witnessed before in modern times seems to fly in the face of common sense.
“It is generally accepted that a vacancy rate of 15% is not sustainable into the medium to long term, yet it is clear that vacancy rates in excess of this are being experienced in Ennis at present.”
The document insists that “no-one is arguing against competition in the retail sector. However, it must be borne in the mind that town centre retailers are the guardians of a significant architectural and historic heritage in the town centre as well as being the guardians of a vibrant local economy.”
It goes on, “Any planning application must always be assessed in terms of its proper planning implications and not just in terms of it is impact on its immediate site, the availability of services, suitability of access etc. If it can be established that there is a strong likelihood that granting permission for a development will lead to downstream negative consequences of an environmental nature, which will have significant financial and other implications for other parties, including the tax payer, then the application should be refused permission.”
The submission states that the removal of the kiosks and the suggestion to use part of the ground floor for community or civic use still leaves the gross floor retail floor space at close to 9,000 square metres.
“The provision of an out of town development equivalent almost to one third of the retail area within the town centre at a time of serious retail difficulty would have the potential to be ruinous to that town centre,” it adds.
The submission argues that the present location for the proposed centre is “too far away to be within convenient walking distance of the centre, but sufficiently close so as to constitute a very active threat from the point of view of the car borne shopper and the shopper from the outlying regions of the county who sees Ennis as a market centre.”
In relation to the inclusion of an access road on the Limerick Road, the submission states, “The proposal that the exit of the Limerick Road be ‘left turn only’ would lead to a situation where out of town car borne shoppers, on visiting the new shopping centre and having enjoyed free parking would then, on exiting, be directed away from the town centre. This is almost guaranteed to ensure that visitors to the new shopping facility would not go to the town centre to complete their purchases.”
The submission argues that to grant permission would “fly in the face” of government guidelines. The development was also described as “premature” regarding “significant defects in infrastructure”. It was argued that a single access to the site would not be adequate and that access onto the Limerick road would cause a traffic hazard. The submission also argues that three sites available in Ennis would be more suitable for the development of a major retail proposal.
Among the other submissions received, the Abbey Street Traders argued “to allow this development to go ahead is akin to welcome a factory ship into our waters which essentially will hoover up all forms of business life and dessimate the very water it sailed in.”
Parnell Street Traders also voiced their opposition stating, “While we recognise and welcome competition it is vital that the current core retail sector in the town centre be maintained as this is one of Ennis’ unique selling points. At present in Parnell Street there are 12 vacant commercial premises on our street. We feel if this development were to go ahead it would compound an already existing problem.”
RGDATA, the representative body for the Independent Retail Grocery Sector in Ireland, argued that the additional information provided by the developers “does not demonstrate that the proposed development would not cause an increase in the number of vacant properties in the primary retail area in Ennis.”
A decision on the planning application is set to be made in early January.

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