A new £2million EuroSpar supermarket and petrol station has finally been given the green light in Gilford – more than five years after plans were first drawn up.
The Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council planning committee finally approved the application – which will create around 30 full-time and part-time jobs – this week.
The application, by Whittaker and Watt Architects on behalf of Henderson Group Property sought permission to demolish an existing petrol station forecourt and convenience store at 1 and 4 Banbridge Road, Gilford.
Permission has also been sought to construct a new service station forecourt and convenience store with associated retaining wall, access and parking, including the change of use of the existing commercial premises to a new car park development.
A report presented to committee members prior to the meeting noted the advice of board planners that the application should be approved as the proposal is in line with the Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) and all other planning policies relevant.
“Officers have assessed all other significant matters, including those raised by representation and have determined that any material harm that may arise will be adequately and appropriately addressed through attached planning conditions,” the report read. .
Discussion of the request began with a number of committee members apologizing from the deliberations for several reasons.
Councilors who did not take part in the debate were Alderman Sydney Anderson, Councilor Darryn Causby, Councilor Ciaran Toman, Councilor Kevin Savage, Councilor Ian Wilson, Councilor Sorcha McGeown, Councilor Darren McNally and Councilor Peter Lavery.
Subsequently, the councilors who remained in the debate – Alderman Glenn Barr, Councilor Sam Nicholson, Alderman Kenneth Twyble and Committee Chairman Alderman Gareth Wilson – heard from two MPs, Jonathan Buckley and Doug Beattie, who both spoke in favor of the app.
Addressing the House, DUP MP Jonathan Buckley said: ‘The absence of a petrol station of this nature, with its associated car park and petrol pumps, has in my view, and indeed a lot of my constituents, a real social and economic impact on the people of Gilford”.
“They just can’t understand the delay we’ve had so far.”
UUP leader Doug Beattie MLA said he had two questions about this app – is it necessary and is it an appropriate proposal?
“If I take the second question first, the answer is absolutely yes, of course, it’s a pre-existing site of a gas station and a convenience store before, so it’s completely appropriate,” said he declared.
“That brings us to the first question, is there a need for a petrol station and a store in Gilford and the answer to both is yes.”
Following this, the chamber heard from Stewart Beattie KC representing a “local trader and investor” in Gilford. He told the chamber that his client had requested a meeting with planners to discuss the latest information regarding this application.
He said a meeting was originally scheduled for September 5 and that, at the request of the planning officer, his client had provided written materials in good faith prior to that meeting.
The meeting was later canceled and a new date, September 23, was proposed for the meeting. However, this meeting never took place and the application was subsequently scheduled to appear before this committee with a recommendation for approval.
Mr Beattie KC said his solicitors wrote to the planning office asking for an explanation and were told, by email, on September 30 that for ‘reasons of caution’ the meeting would not take place .
The lawyer told the chamber that “this counsel has broken his promise” and claimed that his client was wronged by these questions.
“It is with great disappointment that my clients and their experts have indicated that they do not wish to participate in these proceedings due to the injustice inflicted on them,” he said.
After an adjournment of nearly 35 minutes for the committee to seek a legal opinion, committee chairman Alderman Wilson said the committee was “pride in its transparency” and invited Mr Beattie KC and the lawyer acting on behalf of the plaintiff, Stephen Shaw. KC to “make their point” on these issues.
He asked Mr. Beattie if he could explain what points his client would have liked to discuss at the proposed meeting. However, Mr. Beattie KC explained that he would not.
“This forum is not a substitute for that and while I understand you may be skeptical, you don’t offer meetings and then just cancel them out of an abundance of caution,” Mr Beattie KC said.
“That having happened, my clients have acted to their detriment and what I’m not going to do, and my client can’t be expected to tell me that it’s unfair, the situation that has been created is perfect. , having a kind of discussion about what could have been said during the meeting with the committee.
“It’s not a satisfactory way to handle this. There was a representation made, a promise of a meeting made that didn’t happen, documents were handed over in good faith pending a next encounter and this is detrimental.
“As to what would have been discussed, I don’t know, I was never going to go to the meeting, the expert witnesses were and my investigative lawyer might have left, but because he didn’t There was no meeting, so I’m not going to speculate on what might have been discussed.”
Mr Shaw KC told the chamber that the task of the committee was to make a decision on the planning merits of the application.
“It is not the first time this application has been considered, there is a very long history but it is important, as a starting point, to recognize that whatever meeting was envisaged a short time ago, this n It was not the first chance or a first chance, it was at the end of a very long process,” he said.
“The appropriate context for this is that there is a long and very careful consideration of the merits of planning by your officials for which we congratulate them today, and we applaud, and we seek to encourage you to go there .
“There is no right to a meeting as such, the meeting was requested and did not take place on the grounds that it was not prudent. This echoes what we have been told said in a letter from Mr. [Damien] Mulligan [Council’s head of planning] on September 27, when it was decided not to meet with our representatives who wished to express their concerns about the length of this process.
Following another adjournment for legal advice that lasted more than 15 minutes, Mr. Mulligan told the meeting that the officers had agreed in principle to meet with the representatives of the plaintiff and the opposing third party, but that ultimately, “in the interests of fairness”, the officers decided not to meet. one or other of the parties.
Speaking on behalf of the application, Mr Shaw KC said that after “careful and rigorous review of the project over a very long period of time”, his client was “satisfied but not surprised that the planning merits of the project are now recognized by council officials.
During the debate phase, Councilor Sam Nicholson said it was a strange scenario, as the committee “was only listening to one side, because the objector took the position that they don’t want to stand on their own.” engage with us tonight about it.”
Despite this, he said he was of the opinion that this request had been “circumvented” and said that “careful consideration” had been given to its merits.
Alderman Kenneth Twyble said he knew Gilford very well and knew of the ‘need for a petrol station’ in the village and said it ‘must be returned’ before telling the chamber it was “clear in his mind on the matter”.
Alderman Glenn Barr said the debate had been “quite long” and said he too was happy that the information presented to the committee allowed him to end the “matter”.
Another adjournment for legal advice was requested, this one lasting about 15 minutes before a motion to approve the request was made by Alderman Glenn Barr who said he was happy to offer the recommendation of the officer to approve the request.
The proposal for approval was seconded by Councilor Nicholson who said there had been “very careful and rigorous consideration of this request” before other members approved the proposal.
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