Northern Ireland Independent Retailers Association (NIIRTA) has expressed disappointment over the DOE Minister Mark Durkan’s decision to approve a large out-of-town supermarket development in Strabane.

NIIRTA believes that the Minister’s decision to grant planning permission for this site and another in Carnbane outside Newry was “not only a complete contradiction of his Department’s policy, but also at variance with his own party’s 2014 manifesto” which stated that it was “imperative to protect and enhance the viability of town centres and make them the preferred option when planning decisions are made”.

It also questioned the Minister’s decision given he had previously championed a new draft Planning Policy, which sought to adopt a ’Town Centre First’ approach to major retail applications.

Chief executive Glyn Roberts said there were suitable alternative sites for both developments and that the supermarkets will take trade away from already struggling town centres.

“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,” he said. “Does Mark Durkan really want that as his ministerial legacy? Does he want to be remembered as the Minister who presided over the decline of our town centres and as a supporter of out-of-town hypermarkets?”