Was Asda ever serious about coming to Banbridge?

At the opening of the restored Old Town Hall are Joe Quail, Traders Association, Councillor John Hanna, Council chairman Councillor Mrs Joan Baird, and John Dobson,  Banbridge Community Regeneration Committee. INBL24-OTH4
At the opening of the restored Old Town Hall are Joe Quail, Traders Association, Councillor John Hanna, Council chairman Councillor Mrs Joan Baird, and John Dobson, Banbridge Community Regeneration Committee. INBL24-OTH4

FOLLOWING the news that Asda’s planning application for a site on the Newry Road in Banbridge had been rejected by the Environment Minister many people expressed their disappointment at the decision.

Since then Asda has confirmed they have withdrawn the planning application for the site - deciding not to make an appeal.

A spokeswoman for the company said, “Yes, the application has been withdrawn. However, we remain interested in Banbridge and are reviewing our options for the town.”

Here John Dobson, Chairman of Banbridge Regeneration Company, explains his views on the matter - questioning the company’s commitment to the town in the first place.

So ASDA won’t be coming to Banbridge for the time being. Many people are disappointed. Many people blame Alex Attwood as the Planning Minister. I am disappointed too that a significant retailer won’t be coming to Banbridge to challenge Tesco’s dominance. So far as I am concerned, however, Alex Attwood is blameless.

The site on the Newry Road which ASDA selected was frankly never going to get planning approval for a superstore and filling station. The application might as well have been to locate on the Abercorn Primary School playground. ASDA obviously retains highly paid and experienced expert advisers in such matters. The fact that the application was so far off anything that was credible makes me doubt if it really was ever a serious application. I think it may have been little more than an exercise in posturing.

If so the people of Banbridge have suffered a serious insult.

I objected vigorously to the application for the ASDA superstore. I live very close to the site. The application was actually filed by Pentonville Properties Limited which owns the open space land which runs from Edenvale Avenue up to Rugby Avenue and Beechlands. Pentonville Properties Limited already has planning approval for more than one hundred housing units on the land. I didn’t oppose the housing approval. It is fair enough for that land to be turned into a mixture of private and social housing. The application by Pentonville Properties Limited to convert a significant portion of the housing site for use as a superstore and filling station was in my view unreasonable especially as the remainder of the site was still intended to be developed for housing. Initial indignation turned to disbelief when I studied the application.

During the course of the Pentonville Properties Limited housing development application great play was made of how the development would enhance the environmental aspects of the site by utilising its river corridor and localised drumlin. The site was recognised as having areas of character which should be enhanced and distinguished. By the time it came to the superstore application, however, environmental value was denied. Pentonville Properties Limited simply wanted to build a large shop and petrol station on what it defined as “scrub land”.

Given the location of the site the application could only succeed if the applicants could establish that they had investigated any alternatives within the town centre development limit. Nowhere amongst the volumes of paperwork submitted during the course of the application was any information provided to show that Pentonville Properties Limited in association with ASDA had thought about any alternative sites. During the course of one particular submission the applicant even managed to make a virtue of the fact that the site was within a reasonable distance of Banbridge bus centre. Many towns have bus centres. Banbridge is not unfortunately one of them. To claim that we have a bus centre is to trample on long standing grief.

I said earlier that I was disappointed. My disappointment is to have found that ASDA made little real effort to come here. Such effort as it did make was at best casual. Unless ASDA demonstrates that it has some level of care and concern for Banbridge I for one will waste no concern for ASDA. There are other sites and there are other opportunities for large retailers to come to Banbridge. Without putting our small retailers unnecessarily in harms way we should encourage the larger players. We should only support operations which can demonstrate a genuine commitment to play by the rules and promote the interests of Banbridge along with their own. We are not fools in Banbridge and we must not allow ourselves to be treated like fools. We should cry no tears for ASDA on this occasion.

By way of postscript I have recently received a letter from Planning Service advising that the superstore application has been withdrawn. It seems that the applicants decided to abandon the application rather than face a refusal. Hardly courage under fire.