Less than two months after applying to open a second store in Mullingar, Lidl has been refused permission by Westmeath County Council.
After months of speculation, the German retail giant applied at the beginning of October to build a 1,900 sqm discount foodstore and off-licence similar to its unit in Marlinstown, with parking for 79 vehicles, and jobs for up to 20 people, on the site of the derelict Horizon ballroom in Grange.
However this week the Planning Department ruled “this development, if permitted, would become a retailing destination in its own right, and would undermine the vitality and viability of the town centre.”
At this early stage Lidl has not yet decided whether to appeal this decision, but a spokesperson for its architects said: “I’d imagine that would be their decision.”
“One of the first things they’ll be considering will be appealing this [decision]. It is their preferred site,” he said.
The council had hoped to site the second Lidl store on some land it owns on the C-link road, near the Educate Together school, however proximity to the Tesco store on Ashe Road and the projected price tag persuaded Lidl to favour the Grange site.
“We didn’t get any neighbour objections, which is practically unheard of. I was quite surprised,” he said of the Grange plans.
Only two submissions on this application were received at the Planning Department, a boilerplate letter from Tesco, and a letter in support of the site from Cllr Mick Dollard.
“I was the only public representative to strongly propose that the council grant permission,” said Cllr Dollard.
“It’s derelict [for 30 years], it’s close to a huge population, with little or no shopping facilities close by,” he added, referring to the recent closure of the nearby Grange Stores.
However, Cllr Dollard believed all was not lost with regard to this project, and pointed out that eight years ago the former county manager Anne McGuinness had opposed Lidl’s enormous national distribution centre in Robinstown on a zoning issue.
A material contravention to the County Development Plan amended this and “140 people are employed there now”.
The spokesperson for Lidl’s architects explained that nothing as drastic would be required with this application, and that they would just seek: “a variation on the plan to designate it a neighbourhood centre”.
Though the site is zoned commercial, a neighbourhood designation had been assigned the site in 2006 after an application to develop six shops, a medical centre, a creche, and some apartments was granted.
This permission led to the demolition of the old dancehall in 2007, but circumstances in the interim saw this project shelved, and the permission expired in 2011.
“What we don’t have for a neighbourhood centre is the housing on top, but we’re in a different era now,” pointed out the architect.