Retail giant Penneys has moved to ease concerns that its plans to redevelop an entire block in Cork city into a single unit will have on the diversity of outlets available in the city's core shopping area.
Penneys is seeking planning permission from Cork City Council to increase the retail space of its store on St Patrick's Street by almost 50%, adding 17,000 sq ft to its existing 37,000 sq ft.
If approved the development would see the expanded outlet take in a substantial portion of the city’s main street, stretching from Robert Street to Cook St and from St Patrick St, back to Oliver Plunkett St, taking in the entire block in between.
In October, planners in Cork City Council wrote to Penneys raising concerns about the development and the impact it would have on the variety of premises, pointing out that the City Development Plan calls for a mixture of retail, restaurants, pubs and entertainment.
"The proposed development involves the loss of three retail units and two former restaurant premises. Having regard to the degree of internal demolition sought, this loss could be permanent and would reduce the variety of mixes of uses on offer in the city centre," the letter states. "This loss must be assessed against the benefits of the proposed expansion of the existing anchor retail store."
Penneys was asked to address the loss of five separate units and any impact that might have on the diversity of stores available in the city centre.
However, in a response to the City Council in recent weeks, Penneys said its expansion in Cork would help reduce the number of vacant premises in the city centre.
"It is important to recognise that the retail landscape is shifting with online shopping playing a major role and becoming more and more popular. This trend can have a negative impact on the fabric of our cities, towns and villages as smaller retail shops may not be able to compete," Penneys wrote.
"Penneys offers a unique shopping experience in that it provides a diverse range of products for all age categories at competitive prices. It only provides in-store shopping and therefore offers the optimum platform to draw customers into the city centre and compete with online shopping and out of town retail centres."
Penneys also supplied a report from estate agents Lisneys who carry out a regular count of unoccupied and vacant premises in the city centre. In their report, they said there is an adequate number of individual retail elements to satisfy any demand for shopping and restaurants and that the redevelopment of the Penneys store would not have any material impact on the diversity of units in the city centre.
Penneys has partnered with the O'Flynn Construction group for the redevelopment project. If the project is approved for planning construction work will be carried out in a way that will allow the store to remain open.
The announcement of the redevelopment project was seen as a positive for Cork's retail sector which has suffered significantly due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The city's main shopping street has seen the departure of stores like Debenhams, Laura Ashley, Oasis, Eason, Jack and Jones, Argos, Warehouse and Quills.
A planning decision on the Penneys redevelopment plan is expected in January.