THE proposed €34 million major retail development planned for the outskirts of Ennis would be commercially viable, despite the current economic recession.
That’s according to the architect Joe Doyle of Joe Doyle Architects, Dublin who confirmed developer Seamus Lynch has a development agreement in place with Tesco.
An Bord Pleanála refused a planning application for a similar development by the developers in 2006.
Mr Doyle confirmed Mr Lynch had acquired about three houses along the Clare/Limerick Road to enable him to anchor Tesco to the front of the site and to create a streetscape to deal with reasons for refusal in the previous application.
Commenting on the proposed development of a new Tesco “foodstore” by Michael Lynch Limited at a public information seminar in the Temple Gate Hotel, Ennis last Thursday, Mr Doyle pointed out Tesco would not sign a commercial lease if they didn’t have confidence in getting return on that investment.
“They are confident; it is important for us to send out the message we are still open for business and people can rely on the planning system and fair and due process.
“Seamus Lynch has, in good faith, invested in this site. I feel sorry he has put everything on the line to develop this site for his town and his family and there is a great debate whether people are going to support this or not.
“It would send out a very negative message to investors if people can’t have confidence in the planning system. You get a decision from An Bord Pleanála, answer the reasons for refusal and then people turn around and change the zoning and say we are not going to support this development.
“That is negative and for me, as an architect, it sends out warning bells for other investors when we are trying to give confidence in the market place that we are open for business, notwithstanding our national difficulties,” he said.
In the proposed development, Mr Doyle explained an enterprise centre for start-up business would be subject to another planning application in phase two of the development.
He stated a sequential test is not necessary to examine the impact on the town centre, as this was already a designated zoned site for a large retail centre.
Given a district centre is 100,000 square feet, Mr Doyle insisted this new development, which includes a net floor area of 30,000 square feet for convenience food and 30,000 square feet for non-food would be smaller than a district centre. This excludes provision for a café/mezzanine and storage areas.
He explained the strategy is to upgrade the existing Tesco store to a modern Tesco Extra store similar to the floor space provided in Tesco at the Coonagh roundabout and along the lines of the Dunnes Stores food department in O’Connell Street, Ennis.
Responding to the decision by An Bord Pleanála to refuse the last planning application for a development on this site, Mr Doyle explained Mr Lynch had made provision for a gateway building at the edge of the town and had put in place an appropriate form of development as currently designated.
The store design incorporates wells of light through roof light, making it 40% more energy efficient than traditional supermarkets using timber cladding.
Asked about claims the development will suck business out of Ennis town centre, Mr Doyle said he is confident the new Tesco Extra would not be to the detriment of the town centre.
“The Tesco store offer doesn’t sit conveniently on a high street. It is a standard foodstore. That is not the type of shopping I do in the high street.
“One resident explained she and her friends go into the Crescent Shopping Centre and pay a toll fee on the tunnel both ways to do their weekly bulk shopping. The reason they are doing that is the lack of free surface car parking, which this development will provide.
“That would bring trade back to Ennis and increase overall spend to the overall environs. What makes Ennis so unique is the beautiful physical form of the medieval town centre, the unique shop front and streetscape, which creates an unique vibrancy and intimacy that a convenience store like Tesco can’t offer.
“We are trying to offer convenience shopping with free surface car park within a site that is designated as suitable for a district centre.
“It is not a competing entity with a town centre; it is district centre for convenience shopping with lower order consumer goods,” he said.
“There is a lot of fear in relation to the Limerick scenario. My own family had a store on William Street. We were sufferers of the syndrome where large retail development was provided out of town and trade went from the town centre. We had to close our family business.
“What happened in Limerick? You had two competing local authorities, Limerick County Council and City Council, not working together on the same hymn sheet and competing for business. The county permitted large-scale regional shopping centres in three locations in Coonagh Cross, Parkway Valley and Crescent.
“They have taken all the business from the centre and region and is even impacting on Ennis. This development is trying to counteract that strategy.
“There is competing local authorities in Limerick for rates. We don’t have that in Ennis. Ennis is the county town and the headquarters of the council is located there,” he added.