Thursday, 25 February 2010

Bloomfield Shopping Centre's recent Planning Application

My thoughts this week turn to the planning application recently submitted by Bloomfield Shopping Centre.

A few years ago Bloomfield Shopping Centre applied for and received planning permission to expand the Centre to include the additional units which now accommodate retailers such as Hanna & Brown and Mothercare.

A short time after this expansion another Planning Application has now been submitted which, if approved, will see the Shopping Centre grow by 4000 square metres.

Out-of-town retail developments do, I believe, have merit, depending on the goods sold and the infrastructure of roads and public transport links being in place to support such developments. Bloomfield Shopping Centre has been a valuable part of the retail offering in North Down accommodating retailers such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer. Bloomfield Shopping Centre has shown a strong commitment to North Down and good Corporate Social Responsibility supporting a wide range of events such as Young Enterprise Trade Fair, Bangor 10k run, International Choral Festival and Swim Ulster.

Sites such as Holywood Exchange which accommodate retailers such as IKEA and B&Q selling "bulky goods" are welcome and sensible. Many of the goods sold by retailers such as IKEA cannot practically be collected and taken home on a bus or train from a city or town centre location. Imagine trying to get a wardrobe on board a double-decker bus! It is therefore extremely logical and proper that IKEA is located at an out-of-town location such as Holywood Exchange which easily accommodates car users via the A2 dual carriageway.

In terms of grocery retailers, I find it difficult to undertake my weekly grocery shopping without the use of a car. It is therefore seems sensible that large grocery retailers are sited at out-of-town locations with the large amount of traffic they generate diverted away from the town centre to developments such as Springhill Shopping Centre. For this reason I welcome the decision to grant planning permission for a Sainsbury's store at Balloo, Bangor.

Smaller retailers should, however, be encouraged to establish their businesses within town centre locations, allowing town centres to thrive rather than merely struggling to survive.

Lisburn has successfully managed to secure a correct mix with a vibrant town centre catering for smaller retailers, coffee shops etc., whilst Sprucefield accommodates large grocery retailers such as Sainsbury's and those which sell bulky goods such as B&Q.

Rather than concede defeat and give up the battle to ensure Bangor Town Centre has a positive future the planners should adhere to their own guidelines, clarify the roles of out-of-town and town-centre developments and reject the recent Planning Application submitted by Bloomfield Shopping Centre.

This would be a valuable first move which would facilitate the regeneration of Bangor Town Centre along with the implementation of a Masterplan for Bangor Town Centre and approval of the Planning Application for the Queen's Parade development. The proposed Queen's Parade development, which provides a valuable mix of small and medium-sized retail units, cafés / restaurants, offices, apartments and a hotel, and should be fast-tracked and approved as soon as possible.

Bangor Town Centre can be a vibrant place embracing a wide variety of smaller retailers, a café culture similar to Holywood, more offices and Town Centre living. It is within the planners' gift to create this vision. I urge them to understand that Bloomfield Shopping Centre should be complementing rather than competing with Bangor Town Centre.

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