With speculation rife that the Aldi supermarket chain will open a branch in Donegal town, one thing is clear: if the company decides to go ahead, there won’t be any planning obstacles in their way.
Well placed sources say Aldi will be the anchor tenant at a new development located at Glebe. Planners decided to grant permission for the development, subject to a number of conditions, on October 28 last. In what is a highly unusual occurrence with regard to retail developments in and around the town, not one person or organisation decided to appeal the permission to An Bord Pleanala. The four-week period for filing such appeals lapsed and permission was officially granted on December 5.
The planners insisted on significant reductions to the scale of the development. Plans to include a cinema and office space had to be scrapped. The overall size of the retail space in the development was cut from 15,835 sqm to 5,228 sqm and a proposed six story multi-level car park above the retail centre reduced to just two storeys. Although the developer, Michael Kelly of Glebe Builders, had sought permission to build 52 apartments, the planners are allowing just 14 to go ahead.
When contacted yesterday, neither Aldi nor Glebe Builders would comment on the speculation. Aldi’s Irish website however, does state that they are “actively seeking sites” in a number of towns including Donegal and Ballybofey.
A number of years ago, the German supermarket chain submitted a planning request to Donegal County Council for change of use for a retail warehouse to a discount foodstore in Donegal Town. The unit was part of a proposed development at The Mullins and Drumcliff by Bennett Developments. The council granted permission in 2008, but An Bord Pleanala ultimately ruled against the development in April 2010.
At that time, both former Cllr. Jonathan Kennedy and the then mayor of Donegal town Paul Keeney lambasted the decision. Mr Kennedy said: “This is an absolutely ridiculous situation and it seems patently obvious to me that some faceless individuals in Dublin have it ‘in’ for Donegal town. We are a no-go area as far as development is concerned. In the present economic climate this is nothing short of economic suicide.”
Mr Keeney was equally indignant: “I think it is now time that these inspectors from An Bord Pleanla came and met with the people of this town. We just cannot sit back any longer and see opportunity after opportunity pass our front doors.”
Two local business people, who asked not to be named, remained circumspect regarding the prospect of a major new retail development being built in the town any time soon.
“There’s been permission for Tesco for ages but you don’t see anything happening,” one business owner commented. “As far as I am aware there’s been nothing signed, sealed or delivered with Aldi at this stage. We could be waiting a good while yet before we see anything like that going ahead. I’m sorry, though, that the cinema is no longer a part of the project because I think that would have been a great addition to the town.”
Another business owner added: “I think people are trying to hype the whole thing up a bit. It would be great if it happened and I’m glad that the permission has been granted, but I still think it’s a bit of wishful thinking to imagine this is something that’s going to be happening straightaway.”