Cork city retailers have expressed concern that a plan by Cork County Council to allow a €100 million Kildare Village-type retail outlet on the outskirts of the city will have a serious impact on city traders already hit by Covid-19.
The Cork Business Association has come out strongly against the decision by Cork County Council to change its 2014 county development plan to allow the outlet centre go ahead in Carrigtwohill, east Cork.
British developer Rioja Estates wants to create a tourist outlet village close to the IDA industrial estate at Killacloyne in Carrigtwohill, which it says will create 850 permanent jobs and a further 640 jobs during construction.
Rioja estimates the outlet village will attract an additional 220,000 visitors to the region each year.
Councillors voted last January by 42 votes to four with one abstention to allow a change to the county development plan so the Rioja development could proceed.
But planning regulator Niall Cussen issued a recommendation to Minister for Urban Development Damien English in February to direct the council to annul the variation to its development plan.
Mr Cussen said the council decision to change its 2014 plan was inconsistent with his recommendation on the matter which he had notified to the council in November.
Mr Cussen had stated in that correspondence that the variation should not be made prior to the preparation by both local authorities in Cork of an updated retail strategy for the Cork region as required under retail planning guidelines.
Now Cork Business Association (CBA), which represents some 250 businesses mainly in Cork city, has also come out against the proposed development, particularly in light of the impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on city businesses.
CBA chief executive Lawrence Owens said the CBA believes the decision by the council to proceed with a change to the 2014 development plan is contrary to proper planning and sustainable development.
Echoing the planning regulator, he said the CBA believes it should not be made prior to the preparation by both local authorities in Cork of an updated retail strategy for the Cork region as required under retail planning guidelines.
Mr Owens said that Cork County Council justified their recent change of policy on the basis of a research report that was commissioned by them and written by consultants, McCabe Durney Barnes (the MDB Report).
Having examined the MDB Report the CBA articulated a number of concerns in their submission with a view to protecting the established retail sector and retailers in the city centre but also the retailers in surrounding satellite towns.
“Perhaps the biggest flaw of the MDB report is the fact that the city centre was excluded from the site selection process for a potential retail outlet centre when the brief was for it to include the entire Cork metropolitan area.”
Mr Owens pointed out that there are more than 150 hectares in the Cork docklands which were not considered in the MDB report while it also failed to take account of a reported vacancy rate of 18 per cent in the city centre.
The closure of Debenhams on Patrick Street, along with vacant units in Merchants Quay and Savoy Shopping Centres and the entire North Main Street Shopping Centres means there is plenty of retail space available in the city.
“It is considered that there is ample space within the city centre to accommodate the quantum of comparison retail earmarked for the retail outlet centre site in Carrigtwohill,” he said.
Mr Owens said the MDB report stated that Cork city was excluded due to its “central location, assumed limited suitable site availability and limited reserve capacity on the City’s road network”.
“This is an extremely weak justification for excluding a city centre where reported and obvious large scale opportunity sites exist including large vacant shopping centres,” he said
“The vacant space in the city could be delivered with significantly less capital investment, in a manner, which supports not competes with the existing retail sector in Cork,” he said.
Significantly Cork city centre also benefits from being located on a well developed public transport network unlike the Carrigtwohill site which would involve some 90 per cent of visitors coming by private car, he said.