Eoin English: Planned €100m Kildare Village-style centre in Cork hinges on minister's decision

Plans for a €100m retail outlet east of Cork City now hinge on a ministerial decision which experts say represents a significant test case for the State's planning watchdog.
Eoin English: Planned €100m Kildare Village-style centre in Cork hinges on minister's decision

Plans for a €100m retail outlet east of Cork City now hinge on a ministerial decision which experts say represents a significant test case for the State's planning watchdog.

The deadline passes tomorrow for submissions on the complex planning process linked to contentious proposals for a Kildare Village-style development on a site near Carrigtwohill.

But the process, which has seen county councillors vote in favour of a controversial variation to the 2014 county development plan to facilitate such a project - triggering an unprecedented intervention by the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) - is now coming to a head.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has cast doubt on the timeline for a decision, experts say that Damien English, the minister of state at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, should have the information he needs to make a decision by June, which could put the project on ice for year.

Plans for the ambitious proposal emerged late last year when British-based company Rioja Estates confirmed it wanted to build a retail centre similar to Kildare Village on a site at Killacloyne, near Carrigtwohill.

Rioja Estates describes itself as "the largest independent outlet promoter and developer in Europe". Its advisers on this project included former Cork county manager Martin Riordan.

The company said it had spent four years researching the viability of a second large-scale retail outlet centre in Ireland and was satisfied there was room for another one and that the Carrigtwohill site was the best location.

But a variation to the county development plan would be required before any such planning application could be considered.

A €100 million Cork Tourist Outlet Village is proposed for the Carrigtwohill area.
A €100 million Cork Tourist Outlet Village is proposed for the Carrigtwohill area.

A proposed variation to provide strategic planning policy support for the provision of a retail outlet centre in the N25 Corridor area - between Carrigtwohill and Midleton - was adopted by county councillors in January. But within weeks, the OPR intervened and said the variation should not be allowed due to the premature nature of the changes, which were made prior to the development of a joint city and county retail plan.

It said there would be "merit" in Mr English using special legal powers under section 31 of the Planning and Development Act which allow him to direct a planning authority to take specific measures relating to their city or county development plan.

Since its establishment just over a year ago, the planning watchdog has assessed over 30 development plans but this was the first time it had issued a notice to the minister.

In March he issued a draft direction in line with the regulator's position ordering Cork County Council local to amend this variation, triggering an invitation for submissions by tomorrow.

The backers of the outlet say the project has the potential to create up to 850 permanent jobs.

Business leaders who represent city centre traders say the city's retail sector was already under pressure before the Covid-19 crisis and they fear a project on this scale so close to the city could cannibalise the sector further.

The minister will have a number of options available to him once he considers the various submissions.

He can appoint an inspector to tease out the issues further, he can follow the regulator's advice and make a ruling to overturn the variation, effectively putting the retail project on ice for years, or he can disregard the regulator's advice, and explain his decision to the Oireachtas.

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