Hogan defends shopping centre sizes

 

DRAFT GUIDELINES for the size of new shopping centres that were published yesterday do not represent the death knell of smaller towns and village centres, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has insisted.

They follow a commitment by the Government to give consideration to removing existing limits on the size of new superstores and out-of-town shopping centres as part of the EU-IMF bailout agreed last year.

The main aspects of the draft guidelines published by Mr Hogan yesterday are:

- A rise in the size of allowable retail floorspace from 3,500sq m to 4,000sq m in the Dublin area; A rise in the size of allowable retail floorspace from 3,000sq m to 3,500sq m in the regional cities of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford;

- The retail warehouse floorspace cap is to be maintained at 6,000sq m, but with exemptions allowed in the numerous National Spatial Strategy gateway cities and towns;

- Petrol filling station shop floorspace cap is to be maintained at 100sq m irrespective of location.

- Elsewhere in the State, the limit remains at 3,000sq m.

Commenting on the new draft guidelines yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Hogan pointed out that the previous limit in the Dublin area, that of 3,500sq m, applied to the Greater Dublin Area – a geographical area including parts of Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. However, he said the new guidelines would increase the size to 4,000sq m only in Dublin. In Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, the proposed cap is to be 3,000sq m. “That is actually a drop in the allowable size in Meath, Kildare and Wicklow,” he said.

Mr Hogan said a Forfás study had concluded “careful” raising of the cap could promote vigorous competition in the largest population centres which could support a range of stores.

But he said the Forfás report had concluded that allowing larger superstores in smaller centres could ultimately lead to higher prices for consumers.

“The planning process needs to be steadfast in underpinning a competitive retail environment, driving down prices for the consumer,” Mr Hogan said.

A spokesman for the Minister also said he would completely reject criticism that the new draft guidelines spelled the death knell for the small grocer and shop owner in towns and villages.

Such criticism was levelled by Irish Small and Medium Enterprises chief executive Mark Fielding, who said proposed VAT increases and changes to the retail planning guidelines would “crucify” retailers.

Mr Fielding also criticised the exemption from the 6,000sq m limit applicable to retail warehousing, which is to be available for towns and cities identified for growth in the spatial strategy.

The strategy identified Dublin, Cork, Limerick/Shannon, Galway and Waterford as gateways.