“As Environment Minister I not only want to protect the environment, but also do everything I can to create jobs and develop the economy. This scheme will help with construction jobs and I hope create opportunities in the retail sector” Northern Ireland environment minister Alex Atwood today, announcing a major new retail development in Newtownards
It has become quite noticeable that the Northern Ireland minister ultimately responsible for planning decisions is speeding up approvals, and ministers on this side of the Border might do worse than study processes and decision-making at the Department of the Environment in Belfast where the SDLP’s Alex Atwood is the Minister for the Environment.
Today, we learn via the BBC that a major new scheme in Newtownards, just outside Belfast in county Down has been given the green-light for a GBP 50m (€61m) 200,000 sq ft retail development on the outskirts of Newtownards in an area known as Castlebawn. The developer is Castlebawn Limited which is a joint venture with Barney “wee Barry McGuigan” Eastwood’s company and MAR Properties. MAR is in NAMA, though it is unclear if this development is subject to a NAMA loan or if NAMA will be assisting with funding the development. We recently learned that NAMA has advanced GBP 100m (€122m) to Northern Irish developers, though the bulk of this is expected to be spent in Britain on schemes that will be managed and directed from Northern Ireland.
Last month, developer and businessman Paddy McKillen received the green-light on his own separate scheme in Newtownards which will see a major extension built on to the Ards shopping centre. The environment minister today says that the town is big enough to accommodate both developments.
On this side of the Border, we have a much criticised planning system which developers have described as capricious. And you really have to be amazed at the preciousness of some planning objections, especially in Dublin where the most common architectural style is 21st century “slightly dilapidated” and even on our most expensive shopping street, Grafton Street, there is a complete mishmash of architectural styles amid the juice bars, gift shops, mobile phone outlets and fast food joints – Bond Street or the Champs Elysee, it aint. Perhaps if some of the blockages in our own planning system were to be addressed then we too might see more serious inroads into unemployment in the construction sector.
[The press release from Minister Alex Atwood is here]