Plans to build a £6 million roadside service station – creating 140 jobs through construction and upon completion – are being rejected by planning officials in Newry.
The development – proposed by Maxol Ltd – has been under consideration for close to two years now.
But planning officials, as it stands, will be recommending that Newry, Mourne and Down District Council refuse permission to the proposals when the committee meets next week.
A number of objections to the proposals were made including one from the group Birth Mothers and their Children for Justice NI group, who claim there is a “high potential for unmarked and unofficial human remains” in the area.
They say this exists because the land was previously owned by The Good Shepherd Sisters, who ran a Mother and Baby Home/Magdalene Laundry on site before the current ownership.
As Armagh I first revealed plans in August 2017, the roadside service station, if allowed to proceed, would create 60 jobs when complete and 80 during construction.
The development – which would cover an area in excess of 1,000 sq metres – would also include restaurant services, with no less than five food franchise restaurants and cafes – as well as a drive-thru – proposed.
The developer said it would provide a “significant boost to the local economy through salaries, local supplies and rates revenue to the lcoal council”.
A vacant site – east of the Belfast to Dublin A1 dual carriageway at Newry – is the proposed location, sitting almost 200 metres west of the Tandragee Road, Carnbane Road, Shepherds Way Roundabout. It is just over two miles from Bessbrook.
The proposal was for a “strategic roadside service facility”.
It would consist of a petol station, shop and restaurant services.
There would also be a children’s play area, picnic area and parking for more than 100 cars, as well as coach, lorry, and caravan bays. Public toilets and seating, both inside and outside to service food franchises, are featured, and there were also plans for an ATM.
There would have been plans for drive-thru car washes and electrical car charging points too.
The proposed development also includes landscaping, as well as access roads and associated highway and site construction/excavation works.
A traffic impact statement described the planned facility as “similar” to the Mulhuddart Services Station, north of Dublin, which has eight filling bays/pumps for cars, together with two HGV filling bays and a “number of franchise food stands”, namely Supermac’s, Chopped and Moreish.
A planning statement pointed out that there is a Centra and Topas 15 miles north of the proposed site, between Banbridge and Dromore, but it is not open 24 hours and is on the north side of the carriageway.
The nearest roadside services in the south is 22 miles away at the Applegreen between Dundalk and Drogheda.
A retail impact assessment – conducted by Inaltus – was submitted to council.
It argues: “There is no practical alternative site for this proposal. It is located where it is functionally required and is compliant with policy in locational terms.
“There is a clear policy driven quantitative and qualitative need for the proposal. In terms of retail impact, the proposal’s limited turnover will be drawn primarily from the transient population using the A1 dual carriageway and by passing Newry.
“A minor proportion of the store’s turnover will be drawn from the five minute drive time catchment which has a population of over 20,000. The available spend and spending growth in the catchment comfortably supports the proposal without any harmful impacts on any protected centre.
“Given the foregoing, we consider this to be an important strategic development, that should be welcomed by the council. We consider this application should be approved.”
Despite this, the council’s planning team are preparing to recommend the committee reject the development, for reasons which will no doubt be outlined more in depth at the meeting.
But one of the letters considered – from Birth Mothers and their Children for Justice NI – claims there are “valid, legitimate and justifiable concerns” for why it should not proceed.
The group says there has not been carried out a “comprehensive investigation and excavation on site which is the only way to eliminate the existence of any potential human burials”.
Correspondence to planners says that the discovery of human remains in Dublin and Cork in some of the homes investigated “clearly necessitates further and more widespread investigations into the numerous other institutions all over this island to determine the extent”.
This, they say, should be done so “birth mothers, their adopted children and other relatives can gain disclosure, truth and justice”.
And they add: “It is therefore also imcumbent on council planning and all its duties and obligations to ensure all necessary steps are taken to provide clear guidelines and obligations prior to and during any developments on the site, if any discoveries or findings are made that may signify or confirm human remains that they notify and alert the relevant authorities regardless of any monetary or any other inconvenience which may delay or halt developments.”
The recommendation to refuse the application goes before the committee next Wednesday.
It will be up to the councillors to decide whether or not to accept that opinion.
And, if councillors do agree that it should not proceed, the applicant still has the right to appeal the outcome or come back with amended proposals to address any concerns or required measures which may be raised.