Good news from Newry

 

A £45 million retail and leisure development planned for Newry is expected to speed up the rejuvenation of the Co Down town centre and to give a boost to cross-border shopping. "I think that Newry wasn't a priority in people's spending lists, in terms of government spending or private sector investment," says Brian Rowntree, president of Newry Chamber of Commerce. "A major factor in the profile of the region was the political turmoil of the last 27 years. Also, we ourselves in the business community, and the associated regeneration groups, didn't sell the benefits of the region, but now we are."

Newry is on the main Belfast-Dublin economic corridor and is the closest major economic base to the Border with the Republic. Its population has increased by up to 20 per cent in recent years. It is proud of its educational base and it has begun to attract high-profile retailers - Sainsbury, Marks & Spencer and MFI are the latest to set up in the town.

Two major units, a food court, a number of smaller units and a multiplex cinema are all planned for the site at Albert Basin. The largest unit, a 60,000-square-foot supermarket, will be occupied by Sainsbury, with a petrol station and car wash, also for Sainsbury, adjoining.

The second largest unit, at 45,000 square feet, was originally thought to have been a likely site for Marks & Spencer, but it decided to move into the extended Buttercrane Centre. Roches Stores has since been rumoured as a possible candidate for the site.

The food court will occupy a further 10,000 square feet, the various smaller retail units will total 26,000 square feet and the six screen multiplex will occupy a further 20,000 square feet. A 1,041-space car-park brings the size of the development to more than 180,000 square feet.

According to a Sainsbury spokesman, the company has two developments at various stages in Newry. Initially, the company had been seeking a town centre site for its food operation but no site was available. Sainsbury opted instead for the former Bacon Factory site on the Ring Road, at the main Armagh road.

A site in the town centre formerly occupied by Cawood's Coal, at the bottom of Hill Street near Albert Basin, then came up. A detailed planning application has been lodged and if successful, Sainsbury could start construction work in the spring, with a pre-Christmas opening penciled in.

A planning application has also been submitted for the Bacon Factory site, which it is hoped will be developed into a non-food retail park by Sainsbury. The Newry store will bring to nine the total number of Sainsbury stores at various stages of completion in the North. The development of the new centre is the latest stage in a period of considerable growth for Newry. The 195,000-square-foot Buttercrane Centre, which opened in 1988 with anchor tenants Wellworths and Stewarts, has undergone a £15 million expansion, which has added 45,000 square feet of retail space. The site formerly occupied by Stewarts is now leased by Dunnes Stores. Marks & Spencer acquired the Wellworth store last June. The 30,000-square-foot unit is currently in the process of refitting and will open in mid-March.

Two hotels are being built in the town centre and the previously run-down Francis Street, adjoining the Buttercrane, has been redeveloped as an area for bars and restaurants. The Hill Street area, approximately 500 yards from both the Buttercrane and the proposed new development, is to be developed as an area of specialised retailers.

"There is something like £80 million of private money going into retail development alone, which surely must re-emphasise Newry as a retail mecca on the main Dublin-Belfast road," says Peter Murray, manager of the Buttercrane. Newry is now hoping that its booming retail trade will attract cross-border shoppers. "The exchange rate has altered cross-border trade," says Mr Rowntree. "The other key factor is choice: some companies which have opened in Northern Ireland have also opened in the retail expansion in Dublin and the surrounding district. What we do still offer is a value-for-money concept in terms of spend. Cross-border shoppers are targeting the spend on key goods such as electrical and multi-media products."