Ballycastle traders foil retail giant's cause
Monday October 8, 2007
Legend has it that the Giant's Causeway was created for a battle between the Irish titan Finn MacCool and a giant from Scotland.
At Ballycastle, only a couple of miles down Northern Ireland's north Antrim coast from the world heritage site, a giant of the retail world has just lost a battle in its march across Ireland. But unlike Finn MacCool's trials, this struggle was between commercial Davids and a Goliath.
Tesco has suffered its first big setback in its building programme on both sides of the Irish border. Last week the UK supermarket leader abandoned plans to build an out-of-town store on the edge of Ballycastle after a campaign by local traders.
Traders in Castle and Anne Streets - the heart of this seaside town - were visibly relieved over Tesco's retreat.
Brian McLister, who owns a Costcutter mini-market in Anne Street, claimed the out-of-town centre "would have hollowed out the commercial life of Ballycastle". He added: "That site had been zoned for housing and that is what it should be for. This is a tourist town with a unique set of shops that people from all over Northern Ireland and beyond have been coming to for years. They would stop coming if the commercial centre had become a row of boarded up premises and charity shops. That's what would have happened if that store had been built."
The business leaders' campaign to stop Tesco gaining planning permission was backed by the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association. They claimed that the proposed 47,000 sq ft shop would have generated annual turnover of £16m for Tesco. The trade group pointed out that the annual turnover of all the businesses in Ballycastle's commercial centre is only £12m. It alleged that the town's three butchers, four chemists and mini-markets would have faced ruin.
Bryan Gray of NIRTA said Tesco's pull-out "had probably saved the vitality and character of the town centre".
A spokeswoman for Tesco said: "We listened to the views of the people in the local area and, as a result of that, we have withdrawn our appeal and are reviewing our options."
The retailer, which accounts for a third of Britain's grocery market, operates 82 stores across Ireland and employs 10,200 people. Tesco has faced a rising number of high-profile public planning battles as it dominates many towns across Britain and it is increasingly looking for growth overseas. Next month the retailer launches its Fresh & Easy chain on the US west coast, where it plans to open 50 stores by March.
Not everyone in Ballycastle was happy to see Tesco retreat from the coastal town. Even those involved in the original plan to petition Moyle district council to refuse planning permission admitted many of their customers wanted Tesco.
One businessman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "I'm not giving you my name because since I first got involved in the campaign to stop Tesco, my business has taken a bit of a hit.
"I'm not apologising for the campaign though. If Tesco really want to come to Ballycastle then why not set up one of their smaller stores in the town centre. The Co-Op did it over a decade ago and they are ticking away nicely like the rest of us. Why can't Tesco do the same?"