TESCO has lost interest in setting up shop in Larne, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson has claimed.
Responding to a suggestion from Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs Jnr that the Finance Minister’s criticism of the UK’s biggest retailer in the Assembly recently might impact on Tesco’s reported interest in redeveloping the Co-Op site at Circular Road, Mr Wilson said: “After they were turned down for the Inver site, Tesco lost interest in the town and they are not a serious runner for the Co-Op site, if indeed they ever were.”
Mr Beggs had also compared Mr Wilson’s criticism of Tesco over a new retail levy aimed at helping smaller firms with his support for the edge-of-town Redlands development, incorporating Asda, which was opposed by town centre traders.
Mr Wilson replied: “If he were to take the time to visit the Asda site and see the hundreds of local people who every weekend benefit from the restaurants, the cinema and the shopping as well as the hundreds of jobs created as a result of the development he may not have made the comments which he did about my support for this important investment, which keeps shoppers in Larne and therefore has an impact on the town centre as well.”
Mr Wilson added: “As Finance Minister, I have been praised by the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association and a large number of town centre traders’ organisations for the work I have done protecting small businesses, either through regional rates freezes, small business rates relief and its proposed extension and the proposed 50 per cent holiday for the first year of usage of vacant premises.”
On his much publicised stand against Tesco on the Assembly’s plan to impose a temporary levy on larger retail stores, Mr Wilson stated: “It’s worth pointing out that I did not pick any fight with Tesco: rather they chose to use threats in order to try and change a policy which was designed to try and help town centre businesses.
“I have had private discussions with a large number of organisations in which I have explained the policy, all of which were useful and courteous.
“Only Tesco chose to issue public threats as to what they would do if the large retailers levy was imposed.
“It might well be that Tesco are planning to delay some investment in NI, but it will be due to factors other than the retail levy. I would point out that the total effect of the levy on their much trumpeted £100m investment will be £42,000 per year over its 20-year life.
“This will reduce return in investment by 0.04 per cent and I doubt very much if these are the kinds of margins that Tesco operate their investment on.”