Muir urges action to manage edge of town shopping growth

I strongly feel that the Planning authorities should review their policies and procedures to more effectively manage edge of town shopping after uncovering that the Planning Service doesn’t even know the current floor space of Bloomfield Shopping Centre which has ballooned in size since opening in 1992.

I obtained information from Land and Property Services and the Planning Service which details that the rateable area for the complex is 34,862 square metres whilst, according to the Planning Service, the net retail floor space of Bloomfield Shopping Centre was 7,432 square metres when it opened in April 1992. The Planning Service doesn’t know the current net retail floor space to allow easy comparison between now and 1992. 

Whilst I welcome the contribution edge of town Shopping Centres and Retail Parks make to the local economy a strong Planning framework must exist to ensure that these developments aren’t allow to balloon in size. A balanced approach is vital which ensures that Town Centre’s remain vibrant locations complimented by edge and out of town shopping developments with increased usage of Public Transport.

As someone who can recall the debate which ensued when Bloomfield’s came onto the horizon in the 1990s I sincerely doubt whether Bloomfield’s would have been granted permission for a 34,000 sqm development in 1992. Nearly twenty years later  this has however been achieved as a result of a stream of Planning Applications.

The gradual growth of edge of town shopping complexes through numerous planning applications can over time damage Town Centre’s with retailers drawn away from the Town and towards the new development which then attracts more customers due to the enhanced retail offering.

I urge the Department of the Environment to review this situation and implement a much more stringent and balanced approach which involves on-going monitoring of current net retail floor space for edge and out of town retail developments. With Northern Ireland experiencing the highest town centre shop vacancy rate in the UK (14% compared to 11%) action to help our Town Centre's is urgently required. 

The Planning Service have detailed “The approved net retail floor space of Bloomfield Shopping Centre when it originally opened in June 1992 was 7432sqm. Since that date there have been a large number of applications submitted over the years for a variety of proposals including extensions, associated Retail Park (retail warehouse units). While additional floor space has been approved over the years, all the approvals may not have been implemented. The Department understands that the most up to date and accurate figures in respect of the current floor space of Bloomfield Shopping Centre would be that recorded for rating purposes”.

Land and Property Services have detailed that their records relate to rateable area and as such would exclude common areas such as malls, stairwells and toilets. On this basis the total area of floor space at Bloomfield Shopping Centre and Retail Park is 34,862 square metres (accurate 23/3/2012). LPS have also detailed “As I suspected finding the original floor space at Bloomfield from valuation records is not going to be possible”.