The Cork Business Association (CBA) says it will use "all resources at its disposal" to ensure that a €100m retail village project does not go ahead in the wider Cork metropolitan area.
The CBA issued the strong message following its AGM this week which coincided with the landmark decision by the planning regulator to urge the Minister for Housing and Urban Development to reverse the recent decision by Cork County Council to vary its development plan to facilitate the development of a vast Kildare Village-style outlet near Carrigtwohill.
It is the first time that the regulator, Niall Cussen, who was appointed last year as an independent watchdog of the planning system, has used his powers to make such a formal recommendation to the minister, who now has two weeks to make his decision.
CBA chief executive, Lawrence Owens, said his members welcome the regulator's move:
"It is important to stress this is the first time that the regulator has used his powers to make a formal recommendation to the minister to direct a local authority to follow his orders."
"Notwithstanding the existing pressures that are currently impacting on a fragile urban retail environment in the Cork Metropolitan area, the timing of this proposal is perplexing to us in the extreme. The CBA is completely against any retail outlet centre which will negatively impact the viability of existing retail and this view was unanimously adopted at the our AGM on Wednesday."
British firm, Rioja Estates, announced plans last November for a tourist village outlet to sell heavily discounted branded goods on a site near Carrigtwohill. The firm says the project could create up to 850 jobs and attract an additional 220,000 tourists to the region every year.
Councillors voted 42-4 in January to vary the county development plan to facilitate the project which the company has said could be open by March 2024.
Chief executive of Cork County Council, Tim Lucey, said that he and his officials believe there is retail capacity in the region to accommodate such a project.
But Mr Owens said the CBA will use all the resources at its disposal and will actively canvas to ensure that such a project does not proceed within the Cork Metropolitan area, within existing and proposed district centres in Douglas, Mahon, Blackpool, Wilton, Ballyvolane and Gurranabraher, or any of the large metropolitan towns including Ballincollig, Carrigaline, Cobh and Midleton.
The CBA's youngest ever president, Eoin O'Sullivan, 29, the sales director and co-manager of wholesale firm, MP O'Sullivan, said he is acutely conscious of the challenges facing the city on many fronts, including the fragility of the retail sector. He told the AGM that among his priorities will be the development of infrastructure to increase footfall in the city.
The CBA previously raised concerns about the retail village project and said the city's retail offering should be "consolidated and enhanced" before consideration is given to such a large retail project.
"Cork city is still fortunate to have a significant percentage of indigenous businesses, however if a Cork outlet village was established it would almost certainly signal the end for many if not all these business," it said.
It also called for massive investment in the region's public transport infrastructure before such a retail project is considered.