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Developers revise controversial retail centre plans

DEVELOPERS behind controversial proposals to build a retail centre on the outskirts of Ennis have made a number of changes to the original plans, which they say will make a “positive contribution” to the layout of the proposed scheme.
They have also insisted that the planned retail development is “compatible” with other retail business in the town centre.
The changes to the planning application by Michael Lynch Ltd have been re-advertised by Ennis Town Council and business groups against the plans are now urging people to make submissions.
Michael Lynch Ltd applied for planning permission for the large retail development on the Limerick Road and Tobarteascain Road, saying it will create 300 jobs. However, the plans have been criticised by local business groups who claim it could lead to a ‘doughnut effect’ in the town.
The developers have responded to a request from the planning authority of Ennis Town Council for further information about the proposed development.
Addressing the scale of the development, the document states,  “The approach to the development at this time has had regard to the economic climate as reflected in the Mid-West Retail Strategy findings. Ennis, along with Shannon, did not benefit nearly as much from retail investment as other parts of the Mid-West as recognised in the Mid-West Regional Planning Guidelines. At the same time, there is a need for new convenience and comparison floor space.”
The document insists, “The approach taken in this case was to ensure that the proposal was respectful of the overall scale, and offer of the town centre and the need for higher order, comparison space would be appropriately located in the town centre. The comparison sales offer of the anchor store would be lower order retail, as would be expected in a district centre. This contrasts with the town centre’s retail offer that is a mix of middle and higher order retail. The two are therefore very much compatible.”
“The proposed development is not a large shopping centre with space for a wider number of high street clothes stores,” it continues. “It is intended that format of retail is located in the town centre, thus strengthening the uniqueness and attraction of the town centre, in the face of substantial competition from Limerick and Galway.”
Included in this document are a number of changes to the initial scheme. One of the proposed revisions involves the provision of access directly onto the Limerick Road from the subject site. “This change would unquestionably improve accessibility of the site, internal circulation and convenience for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists visiting the proposed development,” the response states.
It outlined that proposals for this access were not originally included due to “an outdated policy prohibiting such access in the Ennis and Environs Development Plan 2008”. This policy was removed in the recently adopted variation number 2.
Alternative options for access onto Tobarteascain Road are also provided. 
It was pointed out in the document that “a significant effort” has been made to engage with the local community through a series of public consultation meetings.
Changes to the scheme arising from public consultation has been described as “minor and positive in nature”. “There will be no impact in terms of noise disturbance for nearby residential properties arising from the proposed development. The scheme has been substantially redesigned from the previous proposal to ensure it is an appropriate response to the objectives of the site and amenity of the surrounding community,” the report assures.
In response to concerns by residents, it is proposed to relocate the recycling facility from its original proposed position and it is also proposed to remove three kiosk units originally proposed in the car park area.
A means of accessing the site by public transport has also been proposed by the developers who have entered into discussions with a local private bus operator to provide a shuttle service between the site and O’Connell Street.
It has also been proposed that alternative uses for the ground floor of a retail/commercial building could be explored.
According to the document, “Retail provision currently proposed at ground floor level in the ancillary retail/commercial building is minor in nature and will not impact on the town centre. Notwithstanding, the applicant is happy to agree alternative uses for the ground floor of the building post planning, such as complementary services or community uses. The applicant is happy to accept a condition whereby future occupiers must be agreed by way of compliance.” Changes have also been proposed in a bid to improve access by fire services to the site and to address concerns over traffic management.
The document also addresses previous reasons for An Bord Pleanala refusing an application for a larger retail development on the same site in 2006, stating that the Board was “clearly positively disposed to the concept of a district centre on this site”.
It goes on to state, “The capacity for more convenience and comparison retail space in Ennis has been firmly established in the Mid-West Retail Strategy that reflects the current economic climate. One means of addressing this shortfall, as in the 2003 Clare County Retail Strategy, is through the provision of a District Centre. This is pointed to as a solution in the Mid-West Retail Strategy 2009, the Mid-West Regional Planning Guidelines 2010 and in the Ennis and Environs Development Plan. The amalgam of these three documents points firmly to the appropriateness of a district centre in Ennis. When combined with the principles established in the previous application, it is eminently clear that the subject site is an appropriate location for the proposed retail development.”
The further information request also answered concerns by the planning authority about the fact that two planning applications “almost identical in nature” were submitted. The first application has since been withdrawn. According to the developers the second application provided an opportunity to submit photomontages of the proposals.
Members of Ennis Chamber, Ennis Development Forum and Ennis Street Associations met recently to discuss the further information received.
“Ennis Town Council has deemed the Further Information received by the developers as significant enough for a re-advertisement of the changes to the planning application.  Therefore anyone is entitled to make a submission to Ennis Town Council in relation to the proposed development,” said a spokesperson for Ennis Chamber.
Ennis Chamber, Ennis Development Forum and Ennis Street Association will be making additional submissions to the planning process prior to the closing date for receipt of submissions, which is Friday, December 16.
The spokesperson added, “The organisations are encouraging anyone with an interest in the development to make their views known through the planning process by making a submission to Ennis Town Council by the closing date of Friday next.”

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