An architect's impression of how the Riverside complex in Tullamore will look
FULL planning permission has been granted for a €20m retail, cinema and restaurant complex on Church Road in Tullamore.
Tony Flanagan, the local man who heads up the development company hoping to build the Riverside centre, was told on Tuesday (May 11) that An Bord Pleanala had given the project the green light.
The planning decision opens the way for a major retailer to come to Tullamore after years of stagnation in the local market.
Mr Flanagan's company bought the site over four years ago and he drew up plans for a mixed-use development across five blocks up to three storeys high.
The project was granted permission by Offaly County Council but only after the local authority's chief executive backed it against the advice of her own senior planner.
It was put on hold in January 2020 pending the outcome of appeals to An Bord Pleanala and the board's investigations were then delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Flanagan was delighted with this week's decision and speaking to the Tullamore Tribune, he said it offers fresh hope for Tullamore as the economy clicks back into gear post-Covid.
“We bought this site 49 months ago,” he said. “We look at it as a very, very positive result. We're leaving the pandemic and we hope this is an opportunity to bring footfall to Tullamore.”
The Riverside site covers 4.25ha and crucially, it includes a block large enough to accommodate one of the retail giants, should they wish to open in the Offaly county town.
“We will be able to offer a large footprint that we haven't been able to attract for the last few years,” said Mr Flanagan.
He indicated it is too early to speculate about the retailers who will occupy the shopping centre: “Now we will have an opportunity to engage with all the different stakeholders and determine when we can put a plan in place.
“There are a number of retailers out there that are in the category that we will be able to pursue now.”
The Bord Pleanala approval came just a day after a majority of Offaly councillors voted in favour of extending Tullamore's 'retail core' to include the Riverside site, which is across the road from the new Lidl store and is situated at the former Coen's timber yard.
A county development plan, which will govern planning in Offaly for the years 2021-2027 is currently being drawn up.
In an effort to combat what planning official Lorraine Mitchell described as the “hollowing out” of Tullamore town centre, Offaly County Council's executive proposed that the retail core be confined to an area running both sides of William/Colmcille Street and High Street from the Grand Canal to junction with O'Moore Street.
The planners also proposed including Patrick Street, Main Street, part of Harbour Street and Church Street, the former Texas/Tesco site, the Bridge Centre and O'Connor Square.
Speaking at a special meeting of the council on Monday, Cllr Tony McCormack, Fianna Fail, called for the retail core to be much larger and argued that it should include the former Coen's site off Church Road.
Deciding otherwise would be “commercial suicide”, Cllr McCormack claimed.
“Observing the retail offering for the four large towns in our area, Tullamore, Athlone, Portlaoise and Mullingar, Tullamore has the poorest offering,” said Cllr McCormack.
He listed retail outlets which had already closed, noted how neighbouring towns had overtaken Tullamore and warned that Liffey Valley was planning a major expansion.
“If there is any desire to reverse this trend, limiting our retail core is the last thing we should be doing.”
Extending the core had the support of Tullamore Chamber and the majority of retailers in the town centre, said the Tullamore councillor. “They understand that if we do not increase the footfall in Tullamore a lot of businesses will find it hard to survive”.
The Fine Gael group on the council favoured a more limited expansion of the retail core, with Cllr Neil Feighery proposing that the Kilbride Plaza/Lynch's pub area be included, along with land both sides of Church Street and behind O'Connor Square, plus the Tanyard.
Cllr Feighery said the fact that an area is currently outside the core did not preclude it from being considered for use by a large retailer.
The councillor added: “If we allow the development of smaller retail units to happen outside of what we would identify as the retail core... we are going to pull away the town centre, hollow it out and create a competitive element outside of the town (centre) with maybe free parking and rent incentives.”
He hoped the “planning mistakes” of the past would not be repeated and though he accepted the Church Road site was “not as far out” of the town centre as the retail park in Cloncollig, he hoped the other councillors would see the need to protect the existing core.
The proposal to include the Church Road land in the core was approved by 13 votes to six. Those in favour were Cllrs Clare Claffey (Social Democrats), Eamon Dooley (Fianna Fail), Eddie Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail), John Foley (Independent), Declan Harvey (Fianna Fail), John Leahy (Independent), Tony McCormack, Robert McDermott and Frank Moran (all Fianna Fail), Sean O'Brien (Independent), Peter Ormond and Danny Owens (both Fianna Fail) and Ken Smollen (Independent).
Cllrs John Carroll (Independent), John Clendennen, Noel Cribbin, Neil Feighery and Liam Quinn (all Fine Gael) and Mark Hackett (Green Party) voted against it.
The county development plan is still at draft stage and the extension of the retail core remains only a proposal in advance of the blueprint's final adoption, expected in September.
In the meantime it will be released to the public for their views and will come back to councillors for further consideration.
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