Published Wednesday, 23 July 2014
The £50m Three Rivers development, which could create 1'000 jobs in the area, is planned for a green-field site at the riverside dividing Strabane from Lifford in Co Donegal.
It includes an employment park, a learning campus and a sports and wellbeing centre.
There will also be a 90 bed hotel, a retail foodstore, a garden centre, and a petrol filling station.
A children's play area, a river wildlife centre and environmental and access infrastructure are also part of the plans.
The scale of the development meant that the decision to approve or reject planning permission lay with the Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan.
He said that the development has the potential to provide significant employment opportunities for the local area, transforming this cross border location.
"I have considered this application carefully as I am aware of the fundamental planning and policy issues concerning this development. However, I also recognise the potential benefits of the project.
"I am aware that Strabane is one of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland with 44% of the population of Strabane District Council area living in deprived areas," the SDLP minister said.
"I have visited Strabane and listened to and considered the views of a broad spectrum of interested parties. I acknowledge that overall there is strong local support for the project and the need for new investment, job creation and the potential for this development to act as a catalyst for further inward investment.
"I am also aware of the concerns of some local town centre traders. However, I believe that any potential negative impact associated within this development will be offset in the long term by growth in the local economy, the creation of jobs and greater wealth, inward investment and visitor spend.
"I believe this is a unique opportunity for Strabane, there is no other comparable proposal and an investment opportunity of this kind is unlikely to come forward in the foreseeable future.
"The Riverine Project will strengthen cross border linkages and build on the relationship which exists between two border towns. I see this project as an opportunity to develop a regionally significant visitor destination at this gateway location and to redefine the relationship between Lifford and Strabane."
However, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has reacted angrily to the minister's decision to grant approval.
Strabane Town Centre Retailer Declan Hughes said: "This decision is utterly disgraceful and shows yet again that this Minister is ignoring his own party policy and departmental policy of Town Centre First for these types of retail development.
"Local traders have pointed out that the vacant Smiths Mill site in Strabane Town Centre was a better option. Again this was ignored by the Minister.
"This decision will destroy and displace existing retail jobs from Strabane Town Centre, which has a vacancy rate of 30%. It will take £50 million out of the economy of Strabane town centre and seriously damage the town's footfall."
NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts added: "Northern Ireland has the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK and if he continues to grant permission to out of town retail hypermarkets this figure will continue to grow.
"Does Mark Durkan really want that as his ministerial legacy?"
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