Huge opposition to proposed Lidl move in Carrick-on-Shannon

Co Leitrim public meeting hears impassioned pleas for Council to refuse permission

Donal O'Grady

Reporter:

Donal O'Grady

Co Leitrim public meeting hears impassioned pleas for Council to refuse permission

People were very vocal in their opposition to Lidl's move at last night's meeting.

A crowd of up to 200 local residents and businesspeople were present in The Bush Hotel last night, Tuesday, to voice their opposition to the proposed move by supermarket giant Lidl from the Co Roscommon side of Carrick-on-Shannon to the Co Leitrim side.

Avant Ireland Property had previously applied for a two-storey shop and off-licence on land opposite its offices in Carrick-on-Shannon, and was granted permission by Leitrim County Council.  

But last December An Bord Pleanala refused the permission and went against its own Inspector’s recommendations.  The Board, at the time, outlined a number of reasons for its decision.

An Bord Pleanála noted the prominent setting of the proposal at a key entrance to the town of Carrick-on-Shannon and its location adjacent to an important business campus.

The location of the site on lands which partly comprises flood zones and the substantial increase in the retail space provision for Co Leitrim involved in the proposed development were also highlighted.

“Having regard to the justification of the proposed development by the closure of an existing store in Cortober, and in the absence of a comprehensive proposal for an alternative use for the store at Cortober, the Board was not satisfied that the proposed development could be justified in the location proposed, and that the proposed development would not lead to excessive provision of convenience retail space in excess of the retail cap contained in the Leitrim County Retail Strategy 2015-2021," noted An Bord Pleanála.

“The proposed development would, therefore, have a negative impact on the retail vitality of the town centre of Carrick-on-Shannon in contravention of the Retail Planning Guidelines for Planning Authorities, issued by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in April 2012.”

It said it would consist of an “unnecessary development of lands that are partly subject to flooding and would not be in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”

The Board of An Bord Pleanála decided not to accept the Inspector’s recommendation to grant permission noting, "The Board was not satisfied that the proposed development represented a satisfactory outcome from the point of view of proper planning and sustainable development of the town of Carrick-on-Shannon as a whole, taking all relevant factors into account."

Since then, Lidl sought and received planning permission from Roscommon County Council to change the use of its existing store on the Boyle Road in Carrick-on-Shannon. Permission had been sought by Church Road Development Limited to change the use of the existing foodstore to a mixed use of car sales showroom and gym with 137 car parking spaces.

And, just last month, Avant Ireland Property submitted a new application to Leitrim County Council for a development on the same one hectare site on lands bounded by the N4 and Circular Road in the townlands of Attifinlay and Attirory, for a 2,874 sq. m. two-storey licensed foodstore, car parking, signage, etc.

Above are James Campbell and Fintan Cox, pictured at the top table at last night's meeting.

This latest application has sparked widespread condemnation and opposition locally which culminated in last night’s meeting.

There were many speakers on the night and the debate veered off topic on occasion but each and every one of those speakers was opposed, in some way, of the development of a new Lidl store on that particular site.

Among the many objections to the proposed move are concerns in respect of a breach of the Council’s own retail guidelines, building on a flood plain, increased traffic congestion in the town where traffic tailbacks are already commonplace, safety issues, the continued sinking of the N4 road, and the aesthetics at the entrance to the town.

The consensus of the meeting was that as many people as possible should submit an objection before the closing date for submissions which is Thursday, June 22.  

Forms with the wording of the new planning application were distributed at the meeting and those opposed were asked to fill out the forms, listing their objections, with a fee of €20, and return it as soon as possible to the Planning Office of Leitrim County Council.

Chairman of the meeting, Fintan Cox, told those gathered, that, quite simply, he is against the move. He said it “doesn’t do anything for the town,” it is in “an inappropriate site,”  and while it involves 13 jobs, “we’re sacrificing an awful lot for those 13 jobs.”

Gerry Murtagh who was one of three objectors  to the last application said that the citizens of Carrick are the ones who should make the ultimate decisions.

He said the repercussions of generating a new supermarket on this greenfield site and adding a new facility onto a roundabout on the N4 would break retail guidelines, add to the flood risk in the area, be a poor use of a strategic site, a traffic hazard for pupils and teachers coming from the Community School, add additional traffic to the two to three mile tailbacks that occur, and further exacerbate the continuous sinking of the N4

Gerry said what was being done was to “gratify multinationals” who he said “don’t give a curse about this community or the small shopkeepers.”

He added that it is not An Bord Pleanala, but the Leitrim Chief Executive and the planning office, who make the decision and “at the end of the day it’s the manager’s ultimate decision.” Mr Murtagh accused the Chief Executive of “negating his duty” and he called on elected members to appeal this matter with him.

“Not there,” he demanded, adding that is goes against his grain to oppose development in the town, “but not there, our last green site, save it please.”

Above: Carrick-on-Shannon District councillors, Cllr Sean McGowan and Cllr Enda Stenson.

Cllr Enda Stenson agreed that, initially, it is the Chief Executive’s decision. He said that on the last occasion he made a decision and only for An Bord Pleanala the site would be gone.

“This site is a private site and they are entitled to make that application to Leitrim County Council.  Anyone is entitled to object to that.  No matter what we say tonight, that is all we can do.  Cllrs have the same say as everyone else in this room,” Cllr Stenson said.

He added that he had no doubt that it will go to An Bord Pleanala at a later stage.

“I was never totally in favour of that site being developed.  As a local councillor I am happy for any development to come from outside into Leitrim,” he said.

Cllr Stenson also argued that the two local authorities don’t work closely enough on issues that affect the town.

“I don’t think there’s enough discussion between the two groups and if there was, I don’t think this would be happening today,” he said.

Cllr Rachel Doherty said that in her view this move “would be a disaster for the town.”  

She agreed that the two County Councils should be working closer and suggested the two Chief Executives should have met with Lidl before this.  

“Lidl are playing ping pong,” she stated, and said there would be “absolute traffic chaos,”  particularly when there are no plans for bypass, if this was to happen. Cllr Doherty also said it would be contravening Leitrim County Council’s own retail development plan up to 2020.  

She said the planning office in Roscommon County Council is linking the granting of permission for a change of use of the current store to a car sales room and gym directly on the back of An Bord Pleanala refusing it on the Leitrim side.  She said there was a certain language there that the door would be left open for another application (to Leitrim County Council) if an alternative use was found for the Cortober store. Lidl are paving the way to make sure another application is successful, she said.

“It should be withstood by every section of the community. I am absolutely against Lidl moving over to the other side of the bridge to the absolute detriment of the tourism potential of this town. We now the Westport of the North West and we cannot allow any further intensification of the multinationals. We don’t need multinationals and we don’t want them.” she said.

Kathleen Coleman told the meeting that they have to ensure the planning application won’t go through Leitrim County Council.

“The person in charge is the County Manager (Chief Executive), so in other words he is the man that has to be targeted and we have to get at Frank Curran and ensure he doesn’t do the wrong thing,” she said, complimenting the three people who successfully objected to the first application.

In relation to ‘MBNA’ coming to the town, she stated, “That building was the catalyst for this town, it made the town into something different.  How the town has progressed since.  We love it and we’ll fight for it.”

Kathleen commended all the business people in the town for their efforts to keep it alive and all the voluntary groups to make it their town and a place where they want their children to grow up and be happy in a beautiful location. “So leave that site alone.”

Fintan Cox agreed with the view that this application has to be stopped at Leitrim County Council. “If it goes past them, that’s it,” he said.

Gerry Faughnan said the people of Carrick-on-Shannon are all custodians of what we have in the town. He said people power stopped Waterways Ireland from building their offices in what is now Cortober Park and this is a similar campaign.

“This proposed move doesn’t add anything to the town financially, job wise, aesthetically or in any way, to me it doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said, adding that he objects to any building going in that area when it it could instead be a lovely park used for the community use.

He added that the proponents of this  plan need to be told that it’s not welcome by the people of this town and public representatives must say to the executive that the people don’t want it.

 

A number of people made contributions to the discussion from the floor.

“I haven’t heard one person propose that it’s a good idea.  The executive are not an autonomous authority, they are paid public servants and the people’s wishes have to be taken on board, this is our will and you cannot ignore it,” he concluded.

Clare Moran said the proposal “shows such a lack of ambition.” She said this is the entrance to our town and “we deserve so much more, our children deserve so much more.”

She said the previous application “slipped by the last time” and she is very grateful to Gerry Murtagh and Ciaran McGarry for representing the community (through their objections).

“I am not against multinationals, I’d love to see more in the town, but I’d love to see a running track for our children instead of them running on the side of the roads  It could be something amazing at the entrance to this beautiful town instead of another discount supermarket.”

Leslie O’Hora described the proposed move as “naked greed by Lidl to get onto the N4” where he said Aldi are doing four to five times the business of Lidl. He described it as “a total PR job” and asked what motor distributor was going to be interested in their current site. He said sports facilities there would send out a fantastic message and he also said there are 60 businesses in the town centre trying to survive.

Above: Last night's meeting was very well attended by residents and business people.

Cllr Des Guckian said they “wouldn’t be coming back so quickly unless they felt they had a good chance of getting it.  It’s quite clear the county executive want this. Why? application fees, huge development fees, huge rates in the face of a declining rates base.  They must be told to stay in Roscommon,” he said, and accused  Lidl of undercost selling of agri products.  “We owe them nothing and they are not supporting us,” he said, adding that the triangular field should be returned to the town.

One speaker said that as you enter the town from the Jamestown side, it is the most beautiful entrance to a town. “We have only one chance to save it,” he said, saying “it will be Lidl today and someone else tomorrow.”  

Liam Farrell said everyone was wrong-footed last time but advised that any observations made will be taken on board by An Bord Pleanala.

To the local councillors, he said, “You are the board of directors, if you are against it you can bring pressure to bear on the CEO.”  He said the CEO “is transient, he will move on in a couple of years, wherever, he won’t be here, and we will live with the legacy of that.”  

Liam stated, “This is simply migration of rates from Roscommon to Leitrim, it’s appalling, it’s not planning at all. They simply want to feed out of the same trough that Aldi and Tesco have.”

“There’s a moral dimension as well. That was given at a nominal figure many years ago for the right reasons. I think you have a moral responsibility and an electoral responsibility and a mandate to represent all the people that are here,” he told the elected members present.

Cllr Seadhna Logan, Chairperson of Carrick-on-Shannon Municipal District, told the meeting,

“I will be objecting to it.”  He explained that councillors recently met with a senior planner to discuss the previous application and to inform councillors about it. They did not discuss the current live application. “There was nothing prejudicial in the meeting. We can’t be briefed by a planning official on an active application,” he said.

Cllr Logan also suggested that “After 2021, the people should lobby hard to have that land rezoned in the next county development plan.”  He said it should be rezoned as amenity land, that’s the only long term solution, in his view.

Brendan Kieran Junior gave the elected members an ultimatum.  “As county councillors, you have been elected by the people in this room, it’s up to ye to be bring that message, to be firm about how everyone else is opposed to this, it’s not good enough,” he  stated.

Cllr Finola Armstrong-McGuire put it on the record that she too was totally against any such development on that triangle.

Cllr Sean McGowan said Gerry Murtagh summed it up well and said “another supermarket would look dreadful there.” He said it would be a lovely people’s park but is in private ownership at the moment.

Cllr Sinead Guckian agreed that they needed to send a message back “but that’s not to say we haven’t being doing that.”  She said they will impress the views expressed on the executive but explained that in 2014, legislation was changed and powers were taken off councillors so they can no longer legally instruct the County Manager.

Liam Farrell replied, “You’ve got a very strong hand in this, you’re strong and very effective county councillors. You are significant politicians and you are well able to articulate our mandate.”

Cllr Enda Stenson told the meeting he totally objected to it going on that site. “I don’t think it’s suitable. I am not as firm against it coming to Leitrim.  Any development I certainly would welcome, but not on that site.”

He asked if Carrick-on-Shannon Chamber of Commerce is on board or not.  “They are a very powerful lobby with Leitrim County Council on every decision made about Carrick.”

Ray Gannon said the Chamber of Commerce do not want Lidl on that greenfield site in the town. He said the big danger is Lidl  will still hold possession of the Cortober store and they will use it for a big discount sale possibly every 6 to 8 weeks.  “My heart is in Carrick-on-Shannon and forever and a day I do not want to see that beautiful green site with anything on it,” he said.

Geraldine Duignan, Chairperson of Cortober Residents Association said they have prepared an objection with 30 signatures  and said they will be coming in with an additional set of objections. She said it will be a “huge financial loss in Cortober” where there is a business plan to develop other sites in the area but a move is going to affect local retailers who are going to suffer financial loss  Geraldine said stopping this move is dependant on the quality of objections that go in.

Fintan Cox said there is a symbiotic relationship between Cortober, the town centre and Tesco/Aldi.  He suggested that while taking Lidl from Cortober will have a massive effect on Cortober, people won’t go near the bridge, or the town centre.

Carole Coleman said she was “a bit concerned it is pitching us against CEO.”  

“I know Frank Curran and I think if we should sit down with him and tell him what our concerns are - it’s not as if he doesn’t know them. I think we need to attack the decision that was made the last time.” She said they must let him know about the flooding, traffic, safety situation, athletics in the evenings, all the things that were not highlighted that much. She said too that corporate signage is going to ruin the entrance to the town.

“He’s going to cite local area plans and retail strategy, etc but we need to look him in the eye and tell him about this meeting and I think he’s going to listen,” Carole said.

She added that it is very very difficult to attract multinationals to Carrick so they should not send out that message.  “We are anti this project on this site,” she said. 

Mickey Lynch said county councillors should learn a lesson from now that when land is being rezoned, they should “look at the long term and not allow land like that to ever get into private hands.”

Fintan Cox concluded the meeting by asking the following question in relation to a remark about Carrick-on-Shannon being the Westport of the North West.

“Would Westport allow this?  Not a chance in Hell! So why should Carrick be any different?”