Plans for a major retail village worth over €100m for east Cork are to be relaunched by the British company spearheading the scheme.
Giles Membrey, managing director of Rioja Estates, has signalled the company's intention to lodge new plans with Cork County Council this summer for a Tourist Outlet Village (TOV) near the IDA industrial estate at Killacloyne, Carrigtwohill, which would create up to 800 jobs in phase one.
Rioja Estates first put forward the plans in 2019 but these stalled due to planning issues after the Office of the Public Regulator (OPR) intervened on the issue of Cork County Council’s zoning.
The council won two cases at the High Court, meaning it is now free to rezone land for the project in its County Development Plan.
Mr Membrey told The Echo he is confident this time that any potential planning hurdles can be cleared. “Cork County Council has now won the day in terms of getting that zoning, so now we’re sitting down to discuss a pre-application, and the next steps in terms of working up a planning application," he said. "We are just starting that process. There are issues we need to resolve with the scheme.”
Phase one of the project would cost around €100m, and involve up 16,000sqm of floor space, aiming to attract over 200,000 shoppers annually. Nearly 650 jobs would be created during construction.
“This scheme will be fantastic for the Cork area, in terms of tourism, in terms of the cruise terminal just down the road, and other attractions in the area,” said Mr Membrey.
Mr Membrey highlighted Kildare Village as one of the strongest retail outlets in Europe, which he said does not impact on Dublin city centre retail. “Ours would be a similar situation," he stated.
Other similar projects in the UK have ended up creating up to 1,200 jobs. Food and beverage outlets will employ chefs and waiters, and create seasonal work, and part-time jobs for students.
“There will be on-site managers, and on-site security," explained Mr Membrey. "The will be a whole range of jobs in these centres, and that’s the advantage for Cork. There will be jobs for everyone.”
At present, many Cork shoppers drive all the way to Kildare Village, which Mr Membrey described as not environmentally sustainable.
"By putting in a scheme here, it will attract people to come into this area," he said. "We will provide public transport initiatives for the site. We would probably put on some sort of specialist bus link to Cork city. There are cycle routes around the area, and we will link in with those as well. “We need to persuade Cork city that this is not another nail in the coffin for Cork city centre," he added. "This is potentially a bonus as it will bring people from outside. This kind of shopping is very different from Cork city anyway.”
Mr Membrey said that, at present, tourists disembarking the cruise liners in Cobh are boarding buses to go to Kildare. “That can’t be right," he stated. "Cork is missing the investment initiative to keep people in the Cork area.”
Mr Membrey went on to say that the outlet village adds another attraction and "strengthens Cork against Dublin as a location for tourism in the area".
Fine Gael Councillor Anthony Barry welcomed the news as a boost for east Cork. “I get where some people have reservations about it, but if you speak to people in Kildare, they are absolutely delighted with what’s there.”
Cllr Barry said this type of facility would provide a lot of part-time work for a growing younger population around the Midleton and Carrigtwohill areas. “From a socio-economic point of view, it would be hugely important," he said, adding the tourism sector would “blossom” in conjunction with the cruise liner season.
Cllr Barry said retail issues in Cork city need to be addressed, but he could not see how a retail outlet in Carrigtwohill could further impact on the city.
“It would bring huge numbers of visitors to the city, that would be spending maybe two nights in the city, one day exploring the city, and another day below at the retail outlet centre," he explained.
Cllr Barry also highlighted the potential use of public transport to access the outlet village. "It’s on a railway line - you can get a rail link down to the site. What could be more sustainable than that?" he asked.
"I would like people to be more positive. If it doesn’t come to Cork, it will probably go somewhere else.”
Speaking to The Echo earlier this year, Shane Clarke, director of operations for the Victorian Quarter business group in Cork city, said that while the group has no formal position on the plans, he considers them to be "unsustainable for lots of reasons".
“The future of Cork city is in its historic core, and that’s where investment should happen, and should be directed," said Mr Clarke.
"We are in a climate crises and biodiversity emergency. This project is 1980s thinking in a changed 21st century world.
“This is not a ‘village’, it’s an out-of-town shopping centre," he added.
"Jobs created here are jobs lost in Cork city, Midleton and Cobh."
Mr Clarke stated the project would "generate massive volumes of traffic congestion, air pollution, carbon and noise".
"It radiates ill-health," he stated. "Such projects are effectively subsidised by the tax-payer through the requirement to expand and maintain the multi-billion euro road network. We’ve just spent approaching €200m on the Dunkettle Interchange. Such projects will just clog it up again," he warned.