Councillors check out new supermarket plan

How the Harbour Highway/ Pound Street junction would look in the GML Estates' proposal. INLT 04-805-CON
How the Harbour Highway/ Pound Street junction would look in the GML Estates' proposal. INLT 04-805-CON

REVISED plans to transform Larne’s derelict bleach and dye works into a major supermarket and provide a substantial upgrade to Inver Park have been welcomed by local councillors this week.

GML Estates – part of the Orana Group – has unveiled new plans after its original application for a 62,000 sq ft retail store with ancillary developments was blocked by the Environment Minister in 2010.

The new proposals entail the demolition of the bleach works adjoining Inver Park to make way for a smaller-scale food store (45,000 sq ft), health care facilities and a business hub.

There are also plans for 310 surface parking spaces and 178 lower-deck spaces, as well as “enhanced” pedestrian links to the town centre and “improved” cycle paths and river walkways. The gateway development would be accessed through a new roundabout at the junction of Pound Street and the Harbour Highway.

A third-of-an-acre within the Inver Park ground has always been key to GML’s proposals because it would enable access to the site from the A8. In return, the developer would fund a £2m facelift to transform the stadium into a multi-use sports facility, featuring a 3G pitch, a new clubhouse and changing facilities, upgrades to the stands and terraces.

Presenting the plans to Larne Council’s development committee on Monday, Andrew Johnson of GML accepted that the site had a “chequered history” in terms of previous planning applications, but he hoped this revised proposal would usher in a new chapter of cooperation with the local authority, Larne FC and the local community.

He described the proposal as a “commercially viable investment package” that would enhance Larne’s position as a commercial hub, help to attract future investment and provide long-term employment for about 350 people.

“It would also provide a major boost to the beleaguered local building industry, improve the surrounding roads infrastructure and clear an environmentally hazardous site,” Mr Johnson added.

Members were told the Inver Park upgrade would be “sympathetic” to the history of St Cedma’s Church.

Ald Roy Beggs said that, broadly speaking, councillors welcomed the possibility of the contaminated bleach works site being redeveloped. He was also glad that the developer was conscious of the impact the scheme may have on St Cedma’s.

However, Ald Beggs reminded GML that Larne Council, as landlord at Inver Park, was the key to any future development on that site.

“While the wishes of the tenants (Larne FC) have to be considered, the main approval needed for this proposal is from the council. But I must say, what you are proposing is attractive,” he added.

Cllr Gregg McKeen development “looks very good on paper”. When he expressed concerns that the proposed supermarket could potentailly take priority over the upgrade of Inver Park, Mr Johnson gave assurances that would not be the case.

Cllr Gerardine Mulvenna described the proposals as “very exciting”, but wondered if the plans were “realistic or just pie in the sky”.

Mr Johnson replied thathe was optimistic about the scheme: “I am old enough to know that we will always come out of recession, and the way to do that is to go out and make something happen. Even if the timetable slips a bit, we will not rest until it is brought about.”

Mayor Cllr Bobby McKee described the bleach and dye works was “an environmental disaster” and any development would be “an improvement”. However, he added: “Over the years we have been led to believe that a number of people own that land, and I want to know who we will be negotiating with.”

Ald Jack McKee wanted to know more about the contamination of the site and asked if surveys had been carried out to determine the extent of the problem. Mr Johnsonsaid it had been done, adding that further studies would be required to monitor the leeching of any chemicals.

Cllr John Mathews inquired about GML’s continued interest in developing in Larne. “I admire your tenacity in pursuing this site, but why are you interested in this location in particular and not other sites in Larne, such as the demolished car showroom at Tullygarley or the land at the back of the technical college?

“I think this development will be opposed by local traders, who will say it is taking trade away from the town centre,” he added.

Mr Johnson answered: “We are aware that there is one major retailer still very much interested in coming to the town and I believe that provides the rationale for our interest in Larne. I think the town is still under-shopped and personally believe that the Asda store was built at the wrong location.

“This site is exactly right geographically, as it is easily accessible from the town centre and from people travelling in from out of town.”

Mr Johnson also spoke of the potential to introduce hydro-electric power at the site, claiming the location was “heaven-sent” for this purpose.

GML hopes to submit its planning application in March or April.