Regulator claims proposed change inconsistent with Government’s retail planning guidelines
Plans for a major retail outlet centre in East Cork have suffered a major setback as the State’s new planning watchdog has issued a finding that could delay or even block the development.
The Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) has recommended that Cork County Council should not go ahead with a variation to the Cork County Development Plan 2014 that would facilitate a €100m “tourist outlet village” near Carrigtwohill.
The OPR claimed the proposed change was inconsistent with the Government’s guidelines on retail planning and would be premature pending the finalisation of two other key planning policies for the Cork and Munster region.
UK property firm Rioja Estates announced its plans last month for a facility similar to Kildare Village which would create over 850 direct jobs and attract 220,000 additional tourists to the region annually.
The company has secured a site for its proposed retail centre at Killacoyne outside Carrigtwohill.
A “tourist outlet village” is described as “a speciality form of retail and tourist destination that sells heavily discounted products not normally found on the high street, for example, end-of-line, seconds, and out-of-season goods”. Rioja Estates expressed hope that the facility could open by March 2024.
However, the OPR has claimed the proposed change to the development plan to facilitate a retail outlet development along the N25 corridor is not consistent with the 2012 retail planning guidelines.
The OPR said it would be “premature to the preparation and finalisation of wider retail, spatial planning and transportation policies”.
The regulator said the development plan would be subject to review shortly once a regional, spatial and economic strategy and a transport strategy for the Cork Metropolitan Area were adopted.
The OPR said such a review would “normally be anticipated to provide a clear policy framework for retail development generally and retail outlet centre development specifically, including the identification of appropriate locations for such categories of development”.
It pointed out that the guidelines state that the most appropriate location for outlet centres is likely to be where commercial synergy can be achieved between an outlet centre and an urban centre “which could lead to economic benefits for the overall area”.
The OPR said the guidelines recommend that outlet centres should not be situated in more out-of-town locations.
It noted Cork County Council had already varied its development plan in 2018 to provide for a detailed, evidence-based assessment to identify potential locations based on the guidelines.
The OPR said the council’s latest proposed variation was seeking to remove that requirement by inserting “a general presumption for such development” on a section of the N25 corridor.
The planning regulator noted that separate guidelines required local authorities to prevent inappropriate forms of development that could have a negative impact on the national road network.
The OPR highlighted that a study commissioned by the council acknowledged that 90% of all visitors to the proposed facility in East Cork would travel by car, yet there were known capacity constraints on the N25 corridor.
It observed the study had examined two other potential locations for the retail outlet centre on the N20 (Cork-Limerick) corridor and N22 (Cork-Killarney) corridor and found they would have less impact on traffic but they were not subject to detailed assessment.
Under legislation the council’s chief executive is obliged to provide an explanation to the OPR if it does not accept the regulator’s recommendations.
On foot of that the OPR can make recommendations to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, to direct the local authority to make changes to its development plan.
The council’s study found there was scope and retail potential capacity to accommodate a retail outlet centre of up to 100,000sq m in the Cork region.
The report estimated a new retail outlet centre would only affect up to 1% of existing business on retailers in Cork city centre.
However, it said such an impact was dependent on strictly controlling the nature and type of good sold to ensure that they were end-of-season and not in direct competition with high street traders in the city centre.
The council said it was satisfied that the proposed retail centre should not have an adverse impact on the vitality and viability of other retail centres in Cork.
It claimed a new retail centre could be a significant benefit to the city’s economy and “an important contributor to the life, vitality and attractiveness of metropolitan Cork as well as an important asset to the wider southern region”.
Environmental campaigners have already signalled their intention to object to any attempt to change the zoning for the area, while Cork City Council and the Cork Business Association have also expressed concern about its potential to affect business in the city centre.
There are currently only two tourist outlet villages in Ireland — Kildare Village in Kildare and The Boulevard in Banbridge, Co Down.