Retail Outlets

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:45 am on 2nd October 2000.

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Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party 10:45 am, 2nd October 2000

I beg to move

That this Assembly calls for credible independent impact assessments before planning approval is granted for major retail outlets and asks for a moratorium on such developments until such time as there is a policy in place which gives shoppers maximum choice but at the same time protects the legitimate rights and needs of the indigenous retail trade.

We have one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and I believe that it is worth preserving. I know everyone in the Assembly believes that as well. It is a country made up of a network of attractive small towns and villages, each with its own distinctive character and virtually all still boasting a convenience store. Most likely there will also be a post office, a butcher, a greengrocer, a florist, a newsagent, and perhaps some specialist shops. Northern Ireland’s retail landscape supports diversity and local enterprise. It reflects the country’s geography and rural infrastructure and the character of its economy and people. The rural agricultural economy of Northern Ireland, and the dispersed population pattern, is ideally suited to the smaller local business. The same can be said of the Republic.

It is therefore no accident that independent retailers hold a larger share of the retail food market, both North and South, than is the case in England. Surely that is worth preserving.

I accept that shoppers want out-of-town shopping schemes. It can be argued that they benefit the consumer in terms of convenience and price, and, in some instances, help to reduce congestion and parking problems in town centres. I do not have a problem with that, and this motion is in no way suggesting that the consumer should not have choice. On the contrary — and this is very important — this motion, if supported by the Assembly, will ensure that the consumer continues to have choice and is not held hostage by one or two large multinationals. It is critical to get that message across clearly and concisely.

Apart from the issues relating to the rural community, we must never allow a small number of multinationals to have total control of the retail market. In such circumstances the independent retail sector will be wiped out more quickly than many people realise.

Let us pause for a moment and examine what happened in Britain. In 1986 there were 432 superstores. This number increased by 250% in the last 10 years to 1,034. These huge out-of-town superstores develop and operate a whole variety of outlets around the "anchor" supermarket and the "DIY shed". The result is that one single massive retailer sucks the business out of a whole community and out of independent local outlets for a 30-mile radius or more. High streets are deserted, town centres are devastated and local communities are left without services.

At present 42% of villages in Britain are without a single shop. Who is most affected? The elderly and people without cars suffer the most. Similar experiences have occurred across Europe, but in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Greece — to name but some — action has been taken to address the problem.

In each country there are restrictions on the size of the new retail developments. There must also be independent assessments carried out to demonstrate that developments are needed and that they will not impact adversely on the infrastructure of communities. There is also a renewed focus on town centres, and this is very important. In the Republic, where planning laws were never as loose as they have been in Northern Ireland, the Government have moved to limit retail development to 3,000 square metres. These guidelines are in place, and at present there is a strong lobby to copper-fasten them into legislation. There is a strong case to be made for keeping shopping local so that we can maintain the traditional economic and social hearts of our urban areas, towns and villages.

I said at the start that we have one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and here in the North we are slowly but surely rebuilding what was destroyed or neglected. Perhaps we have some distance to go before we are in the same category as Austria, Switzerland and Sweden, but it is worth pointing out that these countries have planning restrictions which are much tighter than those here.

I understand that evidence will be given to the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, which will identify what is necessary to improve planning regulations in relation to retail development. The Minister of the Environment, Sam Foster, is on record as saying that the planning document ‘PPS5’ is to be reviewed shortly, while the Deputy First Minister has announced that a Planning Amendment Bill will be introduced to the Assembly during this session. Given the likely timescales involved for a major review of planning policy, and the drafting, consultation and introduction of new planning legislation, it is essential that the recommendation of ‘Strategy 2010’ is introduced as a matter of urgency. The potential for further ongoing damage while these reviews take place is immense.

‘Strategy 2010’ suggests that one of the main challenges facing the country’s food processing sector is the power of the multiples. It is argued that as the multiples increase their buying power they will be even more able to squeeze the profit margins of producers, and their strong franchise power may inhibit the opportunity for small suppliers to develop their own brands.

Similar evidence was gathered recently by the Agriculture Committee of this Assembly. That Committee in its report ‘Retailing in Northern Ireland — A Fair Deal for the Farmer?’ clearly identified the need to examine the planning policies in relation to large multinationals because of their immense power to monopolise and dictate prices. To date, three of the largest retail organisations control almost 50% of the entire retail market share. One of the largest stores in Ireland operated close to this building in August 1999 and is capable of supplying 2·5% of the market on its own, if it reaches its target. Where similar experiences took place in Britain, 50,000 retail businesses have disappeared. That includes grocers, butchers, bakers, fishmongers, greengrocers and florists. In 1987 the independents represented 16·1% of the market. Today in Britain they control less than 7%.

If this trend is mirrored in Northern Ireland there will be major casualties, and the damage done to the food retailing market will be irreversible. Over 1,000 family-owned and run businesses could close. In another eight or 10 years over 40% of our towns and villages could be without a store. The supply network — which generates many jobs — will be mortally wounded. The damage to the retail economics and to the general social fabric of Northern Ireland will be catastrophic.

I do not believe it is yet fully realised by the Government, or by the general public, that in such circumstances, where superstores put local operators out of business, the consumer faces a limited choice of where to shop. Higher prices will result because of the lack of competition in the market, and what started as a big shopping experience with big value for customers becomes a big profit opportunity for the developers. In essence, the customer becomes captive at a superstore, deprived of choice and competition and open to manipulation.

Finally, there is the job creation myth, and on this subject the public relations machines of the superstores constantly mislead the public into believing that new jobs are being created. Nothing could be further from the truth. From evidence gathered in Europe and Britain, we learn that jobs and services within a 15- to 20-mile radius of a new store are severely affected. For every superstore that opens, the average net loss in employment is in the order of 276 full-time equivalents — about 25% to 30%. Studies show that where new jobs are created, they are predominantly part-time and overwhelmingly female. These surveys, which are backed up by scientific research, must have important implications for planning proposals for further food superstore developments. There are major environmental issues relating to planning decisions for large superstores.

Superstores draw thousands of consumers using private transport from up to a 50-mile radius, thus causing congestion on all major national routes. There is also the issue of greenfield sites, as each development takes up to 15 to 20 acres of land. Add to this the dereliction of towns and villages and the withdrawal of services because they are no longer viable, and you have at least some of the reasons why there should be an independent impact assessment. There are, of course, other reasons.

Some would argue that the saturation point is approaching, as these stores have successfully picked off their smaller rivals. It is no accident that they are now moving into non-food retailing where the profit is about twice the gross profit on food. As diversification continues, the demand for floor space will increase. Given the present weakness of the planning system, the applications will be granted. The onslaught will continue. There is the potential for every shop in the retail sector to be under threat, the consumer left with no choice and the country left with towns and villages with no heart and soul.

In conclusion, it is accepted that change will come, but the price does not have to be as devastating. It is the Government’s job to manage change effectively. The recommendations of ‘Strategy 2010’ must be implemented immediately. The promise of a future review will amount to no more than closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. We will have failed to learn from the worst practices of others, and our unique rural countryside will be destroyed unnecessarily. Our cities and towns will be left with blighted town centres, and the most vulnerable people in our society will be left without essential services. That is the reality facing us if action is not effected.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)

I love my country as you do; we owe it to our people and to the future generations to ensure that proper planning regulations are in force now so that our countryside, towns and villages and our heritage are protected from the ravages of big business which is here today and, perhaps, gone tomorrow.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

I studied closely the motion on the Order Paper in the hope that it would have some sense and bring about consensus in this debate, but I fail to see any logic or sense in it. It has been badly worded, explained and presented. My party and I will not be supporting this motion as it currently stands. It is one of the most hare-brained schemes I have every heard. It is hare-brained, ill-advised and ill-informed. If this House were to give it any credibility or any sort of fair wind to enable it to be put on the statute book, it would be hampering development in Northern Ireland for ever. We would be curtailing shopper choice for ever and doing Northern Ireland a great disservice.

I can only imagine that the Member has been ill-advised. His party would be ill-advised to support this motion. It would have a devastating effect across Northern Ireland. The motion is an attempt to interfere in the natural course of market forces, in consumer rights and in the law of supply and demand. If John Dallat had his way, this House would legislate for the sun shining and the rain falling. This motion goes beyond what the House should be contemplating.

The Member has made no attempt to explain to the House the impact this motion would have on employment in particular. It would have a devastating impact, and he should realise that. Neither has he explained to the House the cost both economically and in development terms, for Northern Ireland. Has he really considered what he is asking this House to approve?

There are four parts of the motion that I would like to speak on. The first is the independent impact assessments. If this motion were taken seriously by the House, self-appointed consultants would spring up to provide these so-called impact assessment studies. A cottage industry of self-appointed, do-gooding bureaucrats would have a major say in shaping the face of Northern Ireland. Development would not be a strategic, planned matter. It would rest upon an assessment of what is here and now, as opposed to what could be in the future. The supposed presumption to allow development, especially on brownfield sites and in town centres, would be thrown to the wind, and investment in Northern Ireland would virtually cease.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC 11:00 am, 2nd October 2000

Does the Member agree that at the moment consultants are not paid unless they come up with an impact assessment that suits the developer? What does he think about that?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

That forces the impact assessment to be inaccurate and incredible, and plays into the hands of certain lobbies. Impact assessments are already in legislation for certain developments. It is not as if Mr Dallat is proposing something that does not already take place. There is a criterion for impact assessment. From the way it was explained to the House, you would think that impact assessment does not take place, but there is already an impact assessment. [Interruption]

The Member had his chance, but he did not explain it very well. Let me try and explain it to him.

The motion calls for impact assessments to be a prerequisite for what the Member calls "major retail outlets". No thought has been given to the meaning or interpretation of what a major retail outlet is, and that of course is critical. The Member has not adequately explained what his statement means because he does not know what he is talking about.

Is a major retail outlet to be defined by the name of the retailer — J Sainsbury is a major retail outlet, but Moores of Coleraine is not — or is it physical size? Is a major retail outlet to be defined, not by who the retailer is, but by the physical size of the retail unit in comparison to others in the locality? Would that, in turn, mean that in different parts of Northern Ireland we would have different interpretations of unit size? For example, could Belfast, Lisburn and Londonderry expect to get away with developments over a certain size because of the size of their location, while towns such as Ballymoney, Strabane and Craigavon could not because of their size and population density?

Mr Dallat made reference to the way in which these assessments and moratoriums are carried out in the Irish Republic where the magic figure is 30,000 sq feet. Is he suggesting that 30,000 sq feet is, by definition, a major retail outlet and should be treated the same way as a development of 75,000 sq feet? If so, nine times out of 10 the developer will go for the larger development rather than the one at the bottom of the scale. Or is Mr Dallat suggesting that 30,000 square feet is major by definition? What would happen to developments which were just under this size? Could we expect a rash of applications for developments of 29,500 square feet, which would not have to face the same rigorous examination as those that are over 30,000 square feet? There are many people who would be able to get away that that, but we would be foolish to allow them to do so. Mr Dallat’s independent assessment and his criteria for major retail outlets do not quite add up.

The Member then went on to argue for what he called a moratorium on development. That should be examined very carefully. The word "moratorium" means prohibition, a suspension, a stopping order. A moratorium is not defined by a specific period and, for that reason, is usually proposed by people who have nothing to put in the place of what they are trying to stop. They just want to stop something from happening. If Mr Dallat had come to the House with a more creditable suggestion, it would have received closer attention. Rather he just wants to stop consumers and shoppers from having choice, and that contradicts what he claims he is aiming to achieve in the last sentence of this motion — the provision of maximum choice for shoppers. How he can say that he wants this while proposing a prohibition on the development of retail outlets is beyond me.

John Dallat is crying out to the likes of John Lewis Partnership saying "Don’t come to Belfast and invest in the next couple of years." He is saying to Homebase and B&Q in Coleraine "Shut up shop; don’t come and develop in Coleraine." He is saying to Tesco in Ballymoney "You are not getting your major extension; you are not coming to Ballymoney." He is saying to Debenhams "You are not moving outside Belfast so that other consumers across Northern Ireland can choose your products." He is also saying to existing retailers, such as Moores in Coleraine, that they are not going to be able to expand because there is to be a moratorium on them also.

This motion does not protect existing retailers in Northern Ireland. It prohibits them. The existing retailers are best at providing choice, providing something different that the big multiples cannot provide. This motion would curtail them just as much as it would curtail the big developers. Instead of saying "Business as usual" for Northern Ireland, Mr Dallat is telling shopkeepers across Northern Ireland to erect signs which will say "No business is the usual". That would be the effect of this motion. A stopping order would have a dramatic impact on development in Northern Ireland, and Mr Dallat should recognise that.

He then went on to argue for maximum choice, yet to suggest that this stopping order would in any way provide choice is sheer stupidity. Minimum choice for a successful business would be Mr Dallat’s contribution to choice for the shoppers whose champion he claims to be. He would not be giving them maximum choice — he would be giving them minimum choice. The legitimate rights of the indigenous retail trade can only be protected if sound business practice is in place. Sound business practice is in place, and the reason existing businesses have done so well is that they provide choice, quality goods and items which the larger retailers cannot provide.

This House would be ill-advised to support a motion which is phrased in such a poor and rudimentary fashion, a motion that does not say what it means or mean what it says. If the Member is opposed to out-of-town retail developments, why did he not say so rather than propose a motion which is confused and, by its very nature, confusing. This House would do itself and planning a great disservice if it gave any creditability to this motion, which I therefore oppose.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Alliance

I support the spirit of the motion. I think that Mr Dallat does not, as Mr Paisley said he did, want fair trading and customer choice to be denied. I think what he is saying is that he is concerned, as we all are, about the expansion of major retail trade outlets. Coming from north Down I have a very partial interest in this; I am very concerned about the impact that major retail outlets will have on my area. We have one at the moment — Tesco in Tillysburn — and if D5 is allowed to go through, we will have another even bigger one. This would effectively kill off Holywood, if not the rest of north Down.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Tillysburn is not in north Down; it is in east Belfast.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Alliance

I thank the former Minister for his remark.

I would support the motion if it took a number of things into account. Rather than have a moratorium on developments as the motion seeks, we should have a look at two reports, one of which is the EDAW Report, which was sponsored by the Department for Social Development. One of its recommendations is that a review of policy on rural shop support and market-town development be undertaken as part of a wider study. A common moratorium and evaluation system would help to compare and contrast performance in individual Northern Ireland centres, and town centre management should be considered as an element of town-centre invigoration for Northern Ireland. It has been shown by Lisburn that if there is good partnership between town centre management and the retail outlets, there can be success and maximum choice for the customers.

Photo of Derek Hussey Derek Hussey UUP

Mrs Bell is beginning to enter the realm of the advantages of critical mass. Does she not agree that when created by larger stores, critical mass can benefit local retailers if they use their entrepreneurial skills to tap into the numbers brought into an area via these large stores? Further to that, the rights and needs of the indigenous retail trade might be better met by a review of the rates system. Rates could be related to business profitability, rather than to the commercial properties. This already happens in other areas in the retail sector.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Alliance

I support the last point, but we need to look at the relationship between existing indigenous retail trade outlets and major retail outlets. If it will affect them, they will have to look at what those effects will be before they can decide what to do.

The other report to which I referred was in ‘The Observer’ yesterday, and I was very concerned when I read it. Everyone has been looking at the effects of out-of-town retail outlets on the mainland. The report was commissioned by the Office of Fair Trading and includes quite a number of findings on what is happening with "the big five", as they are called on the mainland. It has come up with a number of recommendations which I urge the Government to examine before we go any further, and it is for this reason that I do not support a moratorium. We need to look closely at this issue.

It was shown clearly in this report that "the big five" put rock-bottom prices on basic, staple items like butter, and obviously people flock to that. Once they get a hold on an area, and people are coming in, the prices go up. This has been proven, and I would not like to think that that would happen here.

One of its recommendations — and I am very concerned that we look at this especially with regard to my area — is that a major retailer should not have another branch within a 15-mile radius.

In Holywood there is one small and one large Tesco supermarket. Tonight there is a public meeting in Holywood about the effect one is having on the other and the possible effect of D5. We have a large — [Interruption] Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to speak without being interrupted from the back. It does tend to put one off.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Alliance

Mr Robinson is certainly not behind me, and he is not in front of me, but I would like him to desist from making comments. I am sure that I will listen to Peter Robinson, if he speaks in this debate, and hear if he has learned anything from what I have said.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Alliance

I am sure not.

I believe that local outlets must be considered. It is essential; it is vital; it is absolutely important that, before making any plans for any retail outlet, we look at what is happening in the existing indigenous retail trade in nearby towns. That is what I would like to see arising from this debate today. I hope these two reports will be looked at and that our Department will closely consider them. We should look at what has happened on the mainland and see that as a reason for making restrictions not just for the benefit of the big five, the customers, farmers and local traders, but for everyone. There has been an effect on local suppliers when these large companies move in.

I am neither against competition nor people getting the best deal. I am against people taking over from others who have worked and who have had families depending on a trade. I shop in Tesco and Sainsbury’s and know how good they are, but we must look at this issue closely and carefully.

I will have great difficulty deciding how I will vote on this motion, but I will go along with what Mr Dallat said — and I will be listening to him during his summing up. While I would not like a moratorium, we need to look at impact assessments within planning approval in order that we can ensure that everyone gets a fair crack.

Photo of Mr Tom Benson Mr Tom Benson UUP

While I have some sympathy with the content of this motion I cannot support it. If it had referred only to out-of-town shopping centres then I could have offered my support, since I believe that these outlets help destroy town centre shopping. Large retail outlets in town centres can be advantageous and can improve town centre trade. I cannot support this motion as it presently stands.

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party

I support the motion because there is great concern among the Northern Ireland retail community. This comes largely from independent business owners who have kept their businesses open during the past 30 years. They provided choice and services for people. They also provided full-time jobs for many of their workers. There is grave concern, however, that we are now going through such change in the retail sector, and could have such a plethora of large retail stores throughout Northern Ireland, that we are going to do great damage to the fabric of our local business community.

Mr Dallat asks for credible independent impact assessments. Surely nobody would be against those. At the moment, impact assessments are being done at the behest of the very large property development companies. As Mrs Bell said, surely the consultants who carry out those assessments are largely working from the perspective of being in favour of the proposed development by the large property development company.

I am not against large retail stores either out of towns or in the middle of towns, but we must have balance.

Some provincial towns — indeed, some district towns — are suffering a gross distortion of normal retailing patterns. If a very large store is built on the edge of a provincial town, its centre is devastated.

There is also a serious question about the rates income base of some developments. If there are 50 small shops in a provincial town, they all pay rates, yet the rates bill for certain large developments does not always add up to the total existing rates income from the small independent retailers.

The debate comes down to the absolute positions of being for or against this. I am a great believer in balance in such situations, and it would be terrible if we allowed the current situation to continue. There will be very few independent retailers left, and the sector will feel badly let down by us in the Assembly. Independent retailers are part of the community and do not close up shop when the going gets tough. They have a stake in their community, for they have invested in their shop or premises. When profit margins are squeezed, they do not close up shop and leave.

Such large retail stores are very often built by property development companies, and I have nothing against them. However, they charge exorbitant rents, which people wishing to run a small independent business cannot afford, resulting in our only getting multinational or national retail stores, something which is changing the whole fabric of our retail base. I support the motion.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP

There is general concern throughout Northern Ireland, on the part of both councils and retailers, about the way the present planning policy operates and some of the adverse effects it can have. It is a pity that the Minister of the Environment, Mr Sam Foster, is not here today, for Eileen Bell’s speech — although I think she is trying to take over part of Belfast — made reference to a particular application where, on two occasions, the court ruled against the Department. However, in the House some weeks ago, the Minister said his Department would pursue the application once again, despite having being rebuffed in a judicial review on more than one occasion. It is significant that he is continuing the policy of the old direct-rule Administration. Minister Richard Caborn said

"Let me make it clear that our policy is to focus new food store floor space in existing centres."

He goes on to give good reasons why major retail food-store developments in town centres can be a good thing for them, yet as soon as this Assembly was suspended, the Minister gave the Labour party supporter, Sainsbury’s, permission at D5. Only the courts, through a judicial review, were able to overcome that.

There is general concern that, in arterial routes in town centres, the vitality of town centres is affected by some major retail outlets. We must have a proper look at planning policy to see how we can respect consumer choice while maintaining the vitality of our town centres and supporting those small independent retailers who lend them variety.

As indicated by Mr Paisley Jnr, we will not be supporting this motion. Mrs Bell summed up the opposition to it better than anything else said so far: "I think what he is saying is that …". Any motion that comes before this House in which somebody has to try and imagine what the proposer is getting at is really not worthy of support. This is regardless of our concerns about the impact of present planning policy and planning decisions on the retail sector.

Ian Paisley Jnr outlined some of the difficulties. What is a major retail outlet? Are we talking about all major retail outlets? What length of time should this moratorium take? How on earth is it to be implemented? How does it protect the existing retailers? You can rest assured of one thing, neither the planning order nor ‘PPS5’ entitles the Department to impose a moratorium and refuse a planning application. There are people here who are better qualified to judge this, but that is my understanding of judicial reviews. That would immediately give a developer the opportunity to say that the process has not been adhered to, and the application would finish up in court. Or, if the application went in and was not determined by the Department, he would immediately go to the Planning Appeals Commission for non-determination, so taking the application out of the public domain. Given some of the decisions of the Planning Appeals Commission I am not so sure that benefits anybody.

The most woolly part of the motion is that which states

"there is a policy in place which gives shoppers maximum choice but at the same time protects legitimate rights and needs of the indigenous retail trade."

I imagine that the people who wrote the ‘PPS5’ document, which is ambiguity epitomised, would have been proud of the wording of this motion. It gives the opportunity for a coach and horses to be driven through.

The present legislation and policy really addresses many issues that we all have concerns about. If you look at the present policy — and I am not going to bore you with all the details — there are a number of issues covered in it. In paragraph 6, the Department talks about the need to protect the vitality of town centres and the importance of town centres, and yet we can still get edge-of-town and out-of-town major retail developments through. Paragraph 7 talks about the need to, where possible, reduce the need for travel and encourage alternative transport to the private car. We still get shopping centres that require the use of a car and which are not to the advantage of the 40% of the population who do not have access to private transport. Paragraph 17 talks about the way in which small towns are vulnerable, because of their size, to the impact of out-of-town retail development, but again we still get them. The only situation where anything is banned is in paragraph 35 where it talks about

"no justifiable need for a regional new out of town shopping centre in Northern Ireland."

This is why definition is so important, and John Dallat should learn from this. Despite that prohibition in ‘PPS5’ we had the direct rule Ministers on two occasions, despite court judgements, authorise what can only be described as a regional shopping centre at D5. We have the current Minister seeking to justify the decisions of his Department pursuing it yet again.

That is why we need a motion which clearly defines what we mean otherwise things would be left open to interpretation. Moreover, impact assessment is catered for in paragraph 58 of the document. The Department will require that. I do not want to go through all that impact assessment is meant to do. The present planning policy covers many of the issues raised in the motion, but it too is ambiguous and open to interpretation and simply enables the planners to go ahead and keep on doing what they have done in the past.

The credibility of the Assembly is at stake if we ask Ministers to review policy because it happens to look good or it is something we are concerned about or it is something that constituents have drawn to our attention. We can not support any old thing regardless of how clear or how useful it may be. I do not want to be negative. I have been negative about the motion, but that is not my fault. That is the fault of the person who proposed it. I do not want to see what I have said being interpreted as a lack of concern for planning policy and the way it is treated in Northern Ireland at present, or for what happens in arterial routes and town centres.

There are a number of things which can be done. First, the Assembly can reject this motion. Then perhaps the Chairman of the Environment Committee will take up the issue, ask the Committee to consider the points raised during this debate and come forward with a credible policy.

Secondly, there are a number of things the planners could do. They could look more clearly and vigorously at the requirement for the sequential test, where developers must show that there are no alternatives to the site they have chosen, even if that means parcelling up parts of the development into bits and pieces of ground to show it is possible, or that it has not been possible, to facilitate the development either on one or a number of other sites in more suitable locations. Also, rather than saying the developer has to pay for an assessment, whatever the cost, the planning application should include a cost for an assessment, which will be carried out independently on behalf of the Department. We all know that if you pay for consultation you will get the result you want. It should not be an open-ended thing. That would be unfair on developers. We must strike a balance.

Thirdly, the sooner we have local plans in place — and many are outstanding or have been out of date for a long time — the sooner there will be an input for public and local representatives and local concerns in the planning policy.

Those are the kind of things the Environment Committee and the Minister ought to be looking at. The crazy notions — and I do not mean that in a derogatory way — in this motion are something that would damage our credibility, if we were to support them.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin 11:30 am, 2nd October 2000

A LeasCheann Comhairle, I support Mr Dallat’s motion. It is an important motion at the present time. It will go forward to the Minister and the Department, and they will develop a policy that will change the criteria that executives have to face at present.

Unfortunately we have found that planners are using the criteria set by previous British Ministers to implement their new area plans. They have done this without any weight or assessment of the impact on local interests in the areas concerned. This applies particularly to the major developers, and a number of towns do need and require major developers to come in.

It is important that we concentrate on what is being asked for — a credible independent impact assessment. That does not pose a threat to anyone. Several Members have said that impact assessments undertaken so far were not credible. They involved developers making proposals — consultation exercises — which delivered only what they wanted. The more they paid the more they got, and things were approved in that way.

The Department has to create the need for a credible independent impact assessment on all major developments. Criteria defining what constitutes a major development need to be set. At present when impact assessments are used, the Department of the Environment planners can, for example, call for a traffic impact assessment. However, credible impact assessments need to be developed across all areas.

The differences between various projects are very noticeable. In some cases where a major developer is involved an impact assessment will be called for, while in other cases it is not requested. People often feel that assessments are being used to block opposition, to help other developers, and that different approaches are taken in each area.

Today, it is important to work from the basis that a standard needs to be set across the North, so that planners will ask for a credible independent impact assessment on all major retail outlets. If we do not do that then the town centres we are currently trying to develop will just disappear. Many town centres are under pressure. Rates are one issue, and not being able to attract business because of opposition to development is another.

We need to maintain the credible town-centre development that has occurred in several areas. I ask the Members to support this motion, and to ask the Minister to undertake a reassessment.

Photo of Mr Patrick Roche Mr Patrick Roche NIUP

This motion reflects a mindset that is entirely opposed to practically everything that is required to lay the foundations for economic well-being in Northern Ireland. There is a closed and parochial mindset reflecting a type of economic thinking that brought the United Kingdom to ruin in the late 1970s. It has ruined nearly every other country in which it was applied.

In this motion we have total opposition to the two things required for a successful economy: consumer choice, and competition through the market mechanism. What has been proposed is a moratorium on both. There are some problems that have to be recognised, such as the impact of large retail outlets on inner cities. However, to deal with these problems effectively we need to devise policies that will assist competition in the inner city regions. It is not appropriate to put a moratorium on the market mechanism. We spoke recently to some business leaders in Belfast. They expressed concern about the problems of transport and access to Belfast city centre, and made some very imaginative proposals for dealing with these problems. They were also concerned about the tolerance of criminality. Sometimes when goods have been displayed on the pavement, they have disappeared within 30 minutes.

They were also concerned about the lighting problem; Belfast is a very dark city at night. Tourism and the cultural development of Belfast city centre is an issue too. Our response was that some of these matters are the responsibility of the Assembly and local government but that an enormous number of them were matters for themselves, as businessmen, to address. They should be prepared to address these as long-term investments in their own businesses’ prosperity. We took the opportunity to tell them that over the next two or three years they should put as much effort into making a real contribution through their businesses — for example, to ensure that Belfast city centre is competitive in relation to supermarkets developed outside the city — as they did in the case of some completely daft proposals about a single Irish economy and a Dublin/Belfast corridor. If they did that, they would be laying the basis of their future success, and not their own ruin as in the case of the corridor and all that nonsense.

The idea that the Northern Ireland economy will be assisted, or that any problems will be solved, by stifling and placing a moratorium on the market mechanism is absolute nonsense. Equally, there are occasions when the Assembly and local government, in conjunction with business, can take measures to assist competition in areas that are now relatively uncompetitive. That needs to be addressed, but it is certainly not addressed in this motion. This motion needs to be rejected out of hand.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

Mr Dallat indicated that the Agriculture Committee had brought forward a report which suggested that they were opposed to retail developments. The report said no such thing. It did say that retailers ought to treat producers fairly. I do not believe that any farmer in Northern Ireland is calling for shops to close down; they want their produce in the shops. The issue for the farmer is the price that the shops are paying him for his produce.

Photo of Mr Patrick Roche Mr Patrick Roche NIUP

Absolutely. The way to protect competition in Northern Ireland is through the market mechanism. The economic thinking of the SDLP, like their politics, is the road to ruin. It is indistinguishable from the thinking laid out in pages 92 and 93 of a book called ‘The Politics of Irish Freedom’. The sad and predictable fact is that if and when the leader of the PUP rises to speak, his thinking will share the same closed and parochial mindset as is evident in the motion.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

Going by the debate so far there is obviously a bit of confusion surrounding this issue, which reflects the confusion surrounding planning policy in general. It is something which needs to be changed, and changed very speedily.

We discussed this motion’s wording and listened to criticisms from Mr Paisley Jnr. We are concerned about the dangers that out-of-town shopping developments pose to small towns and local retailers — they must be addressed. That is the essence of this motion, and it cannot be ignored because of the wording. It is important to take into consideration the need for balanced development between out-of-town retail super-shops and local towns and villages — the need to keep them vibrant and alive, and Mr Dallat’s opinion that the heart and soul of the community is the local town.

We need vision, we need strategy, we need consultations, we need consideration, and we need community involvement. We have got none of those yet. Surely if we look at the motion we see that it is basically suggesting "Hold on, boys, until we get this properly planned".

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

Vision is what is probably needed so that we can get this right.

I am sorry that Mr Paisley Jnr is not in the Chamber for I want to refer to his comments about interference "in the natural course of market forces". I wonder when he was last in one of the major superstores. On the subject of interference, when you look for Tayto crisps, you cannot find them on the shelves any more because the supermarket’s own brand is up front there. Talk about interfering in natural consumer forces: if you want the product that you have been used to, you cannot —

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP

If you are looking for Tayto crisps, Tesco at Knocknagoney had them at the weekend.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

The problem is that they are getting harder to find. Local produce is getting harder and harder to find on the big superstore shelves. Why is that? It is because the superstores’ produce is guaranteed to get them better prices if they are put up front. I have had to search through all the potato crisps to find the Tayto brand.

It is a very serious problem and we have been lobbied about it on many occasions. I am sure all Members have seen the document from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association called ‘And then there were none …’, which is about local independent retailers and where they are going. Those are the important considerations that need to be taken into account when we are looking at planning developments for superstores. The document refers to the mass closure of small shops, the damage to the supply network, irreversible damage to rural communities, and lack of choice and access for consumers. All those things need to be taken into account when we are looking at superstore shopping and how it is carried out.

I want to make an important point about what is described as an "independent impact assessment". I talked to an experienced consultant who stressed the need for the independence of the impact assessment because the developer or big shopkeeper commissions the retail impact statement, and we all know what that leads on to — the statement is done but it is not independent. The key word in this motion is "independent".

The Department of the Environment should commission the impact statement and charge the developer as part of the application fee. I have spoken to experienced consultants. I said this to Mr Paisley, who said that consultants are not paid unless they come up with an impact assessment that is favourable to the developer. Therefore the independence of the impact assessment is very important.

Let me move on to the words about the moratorium that have been criticised from this part of the Floor. I cannot find the exact quotation but ‘Strategy 2010’, the economic handbook for the future development of Northern Ireland, states that there should be a rethink on out-of-town shopping. The wise gurus of economic development are saying that. A headline in my local paper, the ‘County Down Spectator’, states "Empty shops shelve small retail hopes".

Photo of Mr Patrick Roche Mr Patrick Roche NIUP

I do not believe that there is a competent economist in Northern Ireland who would give any credibility to the so called ‘Strategy 2010’.

‘Strategy 2010’ has an enormous wish list, but it contains no strategy to achieve any of the items on that wish list. Therefore it is not a strategy, and it has been rubbished by some of the most competent economists in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

May I read the list of people who were involved in ‘Strategy 2010’, to whose words Mr Roche gives no credence? They are Dr Alan Gillespie, Mr Gerry Loughran (now head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service), Mr Frank Bunting, Mr Chris Gibson, Ms Teresa Townsley, Mr Bruce Robinson, Dr Aideen McGinley, Mr John McGinnis, Mr David Gibson, Sir Roy McNulty, and Dr Patrick Haren.

We must take into account all the different viewpoints that exist, whether they be the views of local newspapers, retailers, economists, or those expressed in Mr Dallat’s motion. There are major problems with this but the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee is considering them all. There are problems with superstores, and we must work out how to deal with them. It is as simple as that.

The motion mentions a moratorium but does not put a time limit on it. That is important. If there were a time limit, it could be limited to, for example, 12 months or until such time as the policy, vision and strategy are in place. The motion does not state that this is a lifelong moratorium, that there will be no more shopping centres. It is saying that we should get a strategy and a vision before we move. It is important that we know where we are going.

In this new dispensation in Northern Ireland, where we are trying to build peace and reconciliation, we must also try to build new structures, new environment policies and new policies to help us move forward. I think that is what this motion is about, and that is what the House should be considering.

Photo of George Savage George Savage UUP

I agree and disagree with some of the issues contained in Mr Dallat’s motion. Shopping trends have changed over the years, and there are quite a number of small, rural enterprises. I live in a rural area close to three villages where there are small enterprises. They are part and parcel of the rural way of life, and they must be protected. I know that things have changed in many ways, but that way of life must be protected.

Planning regulations must exist, but they should be tightened. Multinationals should be allowed to expand, but they should not be allowed to take over a whole town. There must be a limit on what they are allowed to do. These supermarkets — no matter where they start up — can be very beneficial to towns and to the other shops in them. For instance, when Marks and Spencer came to Sprucefield, many people said that it would ruin the town of Lisburn. It has not. It has given the town a tremendous boost.

Over the last year or 18 months, attempts have been made to open such a retail outlet in Lurgan, and we hope that that will happen. When the shopping complex does open, other things will flow from it, and the shops nearby will benefit immensely. Many things are happening at present, and people are entitled to a choice. In the rural areas where there are small enterprises people will go wherever they choose for fresh food and fresh fruit.

There is no reason why those people should be steamrolled over. Many small businesses in those areas have been trying, without success, to get planning permission. They should be given that opportunity. If the outlets are not beneficial to the area then they will not survive. As I said, trends have changed. Nowadays people work all hours. There are all-night shopping centres, and people have the choice whether they want to visit them. It would not be my choice, but I like to support my local area as much as possible. These retail outlets are essential. There is one thing staring me straight in the face with regard to types of businesses in town centres. What need is there for builders’ suppliers in the middle of a town? They have to be on the outskirts of a town or village because big lorries are constantly coming and going with materials. If they are in the middle of a town people constantly complain about the noise. I can not support the motion.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I would like to comment on some of the contributions to the debate so far and, in particular, on the opening contribution from the DUP. The Member for North Antrim, in a rather typical speech, veered from verbosity to pomposity and this is reflected in some of his comments. He referred to Mr Dallat’s contribution as hare-brained, ill-advised and ill-informed. He then went into overstatement, referring to the motion as having a devastating effect and hampering development and customer choice for ever. That is verbosity and pomposity, and it did not inform the debate very well. It certainly did not represent the content of Mr Dallat’s speech.

The most interesting comment from the Member for North Antrim was the devastating contribution in which he said that nothing should be done to stop the natural course of market forces and the natural course of supply and demand. I have never heard a more dogmatic statement about laissez-faire economics in any Parliament in recent times than the Member’s that those factors should determine retail development in this part of Ireland.

If this motion is not accepted by Members then the conclusion will be drawn that that is the view of many people in the House. That will ill-inform planning development, commercial development and will ill-serve the many small retailers in the towns, villages and hamlets of North Antrim who no doubt have given votes in the past to that Member.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP

Does the Member accept that it was made very clear that there are concerns and that the proper way of dealing with this would be for the Environment Committee to look at the issues and to come forward with informed proposals to the House?

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am delighted, Sammy, that you came in, for the most eloquent indictment of the Member for North Antrim’s speech was your contribution. Standing behind the Member for North Antrim, you said explicitly that you thought that the best criticism of Mr Dallat’s speech —

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr Attwood, please address your comments to the Chair.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

— came not from the Member for North Antrim but from the Member for North Down. I thought that was the most telling indictment of the misinformation supplied by the Member for North Antrim.


Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr Attwood, will you please refer to Members by their surnames? There are several Members from North Antrim and South Down.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

Only one Member from North Antrim has spoken in this debate, Chair.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you. I will note that.

Mr Sammy Wilson’s contribution was, as always on planning issues, thoughtful. He outlined a number of proposals that would influence planning development for retail developments in a healthy and creative way. He said nothing that we in this party would have any difficulty with.

The second point I want to make is that I want us to go back to what John Dallat said. If you actually read the speech, you will discover that it is a very well researched paper that borrows from experience in Britain, the Republic of Ireland and Europe in order to draw conclusions about what best informs planning policy in the North. It goes further than that. It lists the devastating statistical evidence about how many villages in Britain are no longer served by a shop and the devastating impact that that has on people without a car, the elderly, the disabled and the disadvantaged generally. It talks about how many countries in Europe have tried to implement planning policy to ensure that major retail developments do not run riot in their economies. It invokes evidence given to two Assembly committees.

On that point, I thought the contribution of Mr Roche was particularly noteworthy. He gave way to Mr Paisley Jnr, who said that the Agriculture Committee did not draw the conclusions that John Dallat said it did. The Agriculture Committee said explicitly in its report ‘Retailing in Northern Ireland — A Fair Deal for the Farmer?’ that it identified the need to examine the planning policies in relation to large multinationals because of their immense power to monopolise and dictate prices.

Mr Roche should agree with that, rather than agreeing with Ian Paisley Jnr, whom he seemed to be in accord with, and who then went off on a wild goose chase, quoting the writings of Gerry Adams as if they were somehow relevant to this debate. I think he should go back to what the committee said and respond to that, rather than scoring some narrow point based on the writings of another Member. I have not heard any credible indictment of, or disagreement with, the core content of this motion from the Ulster Unionists, the DUP or anybody else.

I want to end by going back to the core of the motion. What does the motion say? It invokes a number of principles. The first one is that there is a need for credible independent impact assessments. I have heard no Member say that that is a false principle. I have heard Members say that the fact that multiples appoint their own assessors is not an appropriate response to ensuring that economic development of superstores is developed in a planned and systematic way. I have heard nobody say that the current system is credible and independent, but I have heard people, including Sammy Wilson, say that there is a need for credible independent impact assessments, and that that principle should be upheld by voting for this motion.

Secondly, I have heard nobody say that the principle that John Dallat outlined — namely, giving shoppers maximum choice while protecting the legitimate rights and needs of indigenous retail trade — is false. Nobody has disagreed with that. That is another reason why this motion and those principles should be endorsed. As for Mr Dallat’s suggestion of a moratorium, what does that mean?

The purpose of a moratorium is not to prevent development but to let us manage development properly, get it right and in the meantime not have any of these major retail developments because they are prejudicial. Why should the Chamber support this motion? As Mr Dallat said, there is an ongoing review of planning development in the North. He said

"The Minister of the Environment, Sam Foster, is on record as saying that the planning document ‘PPS5’ is to be reviewed shortly, while the Deputy First Minister has announced that a Planning (Amendment) Bill will be introduced to the Assembly during this session."

How can we inform both the review of PPS5 and the Planning (Amendment) Bill? The way to do it is to say on the Floor of the Chamber that there are a number of principles, which Jane Morrice outlined in a very powerful contribution, that should inform what they are doing. Those principles are the credible independent impact assessments for major retail outlets, maximum choice for shoppers, protection of legitimate rights and needs of the indigenous retail trade, and a moratorium — not forever, but in the interim — until the Government get those planning considerations correct. The best way to influence what the Government are doing now is to pass this motion. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Mr Mervyn Carrick Mr Mervyn Carrick DUP

The motion before the House today gives us a welcome opportunity to debate the issue. There is no doubt about that. However, in the wording there is a lack of definition that contributes to doubts in our minds about whether we can support the spirit of the motion. We can relate to Mr Dallat in the underlying spirit of the motion, but having considered the issue carefully, I cannot support it in its present form. However, it is a timely opportunity to debate an issue that cuts across planning issues, and the economic fabric and social structure of our society. There are also commercial considerations.

I have drawn on the EDAW final report of January 2000, ‘The Northern Ireland Town Centre Re-invigoration Study’, and the planning document ‘PPS5’. I trust that my remarks will be constructive and help the debate as it is carried forward. The EDAW final report identified major retail development as a key policy issue. It said

"One of the key policy issues for planning in Northern Ireland is the impact of major retail development and particularly out-of-town retailing. The initial surge in superstore development proposals in the mid-1990s have now been joined by demands for non-food and other multiples... The impact of the volume of applications has resulted in significant delays in the time taken to process them.

There is a considerable volume of floorspace with permissions likely to get permission which will take some time to feed through to development have on identifiable impact on existing town centres."

I have difficulty with the considerable number of applications and the lack of definition of a major retail development. ‘PPS5’ indicates that a major development is something over 1000 sq m, but it is not clear from the motion that Mr Dallat means precisely that. Without some further clarity I would be opposed to a moratorium at this time.

I do not think that we can argue with the objectives listed on page three of the ‘PPS5’. The Government’s objectives for town centres and retail developments is to sustain and enhance their vitality and viability, to focus development, especially retail development, in locations where the proximity of businesses facilitates competition that benefits all customers and maximises the opportunity to use transport other than the car, to maintain an efficient, competitive and innovative retail sector and ensure the viability of a wide range of shops, employment services and facilities which are easily accessible. The Department is committed to freedom of choice and flexibility in terms of retail development throughout Northern Ireland. That is all quite clear, and we can all identify with those objectives and that approach.

However, in the first recommendation EDAW indicates that there is a strong case for ‘PPS5’ to be reviewed, as a matter of priority. The present policy is ambiguous and therefore open to interpretation by the Planning Service. Despite the clarity of the objectives, there seems to be some ambiguity or difference in interpretation that might cause problems.

It is suggested that a retail capacity assessment for Northern Ireland should be commissioned, to provide an objective, independent base upon which to assess further applications for more major retail developments. That would also be helpful. "Credible" and "independent" are the operative words. The decision remains to be made as to where, and in what circumstances, any new development would be permitted. It is generally accepted that the locations of such developments would be market-led. Certainly the inclusion of a more explicit sequential test requirement would be desirable. It would be appropriate to offer more explicit guidance to applicants suggesting different types of town centre development, to encourage diversity.

Other Members commented on the fact that there are small towns and villages throughout Northern Ireland. The second recommendation of the EDAW report states that a review of policy on rural shop support and market town development be undertaken as part of a wider study of rural social exclusion. This recommendation is particularly relevant to my own constituency. Not only is it relevant in respect of the rural social support structure required for towns such as Banbridge, Gilford, Scarva, Waringstown, Donaghcloney, Magheralin and Seapatrick, but it also recognises the unique circumstance that the city of Craigavon includes two market towns — Lurgan and Portadown. After 30 years, substantial retail development in the centre sector of Craigavon is beginning to put a heart into the centre of Craigavon and has had a knock-on effect on the retail development of those two market towns. The challenge with regard to the retail sector is to ensure that market towns such as Lurgan and Portadown have the ability to attract and retain retail investment and maintain their viability and commercial vitality.

Therefore, it is important that planning policy recognise the legitimate rights and needs of indigenous retailers and maintain a vibrant economic fabric in small towns and villages across Northern Ireland. It is an undeniable fact that consumers are voting with their feet. Increasingly they wish to shop where there is comfort and protection from the elements, a wide range of goods, free car parking, and, of course, competitive prices. If indigenous traders wish to compete with the multinationals, there must be a new approach and a new attitude. Town centres must adapt to the twenty-first century consumer’s expectations and create an attractive and welcoming retail environment. Customer service and comfort must be of the highest order.

The proposer spoke of a moratorium on major retail outlets. I hope that that does not include smaller retail developments, many of which are in the planning pipeline and which, I hope, will provide an economic lifeline for certain communities in towns across Northern Ireland. Many of our towns are facing competition from existing major retailers in other towns. There is competition between towns. The establishment of the smaller retail developments in towns is one way of stopping the consumer haemorrhage and retaining shoppers in their own towns and villages. The retail trade must adapt to meet the expectations of the consumer. If that service is not available locally the shoppers, with their increased mobility, will shop elsewhere. That is a proven fact.

However, our market town centres require assistance as they struggle with the management of change. That is the key. Our traditional market towns need assistance. They need financial help with their infrastructure and with the creation of a new environment. I hope that there will be sufficient support in this House to include the financial provision within the appropriate departmental budgets to effectively maintain the viability and vitality of market towns and villages across Northern Ireland.

In closing, I say to Mr Dallat that in view of the degree of sympathy in the House for his general principle, perhaps he should consider withdrawing the motion in the best interest of the House. I think that on a future occasion or for a different motion, he would find unanimous support.

Photo of Gerry McHugh Gerry McHugh Sinn Féin 12:15 pm, 2nd October 2000

A Cheann Comhairle. I support the motion. When you read the motion, there is really nothing there that anyone could have difficulty with. Some of the opposition to this is either driven by one reason or it is city-driven to some extent. The motion has a creditable aim in independent impact assessments and a moratorium — which can be lifted at any time — on major retail outlets. I see nothing wrong with that, certainly as it affects the area that I represent, which is a rural area.

I have a document from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, which represents 874 independent food retailers. They claim that they are making a significant contribution to the local economy in terms of employment and revenue, as well as providing a strong focal point in local communities, and without some positive action from the Assembly, according to them, the future of the Province’s independent retailing infrastructure looks bleak. One statistic that is particularly striking is that 40% of small towns and villages in Britain no longer have a local shop. That has to be of concern to anyone.

This motion reflects the approach which has been adopted in respect of retail planning in the South of Ireland and, indeed, in many other European countries, although I think there is a need for some sort of limiting factor on large retailing outlets. There can be a benefit to the local retailers, however, and I agree with some of the arguments about size. If the size of the outlet is right, and it is placed in or near a town centre, then it can have added value for that town, and if the local retailers work together and utilise the resulting spending power, they can gain. The difficulty lies with the large out-of-town shopping centres, which, in many cases, lead to a displacement of jobs.

The Agriculture Committee’s recent discussion on retailing raised the business of profit. These large outfits can hoover money up from the local population. They have 90 days in which to pay back what they have paid for their products. They get a large amount of money from the local population, and they use it to build their establishments all around the world. They then use their power to wipe out the local retailers thereby creating their own monopoly. That is a business trend that is worked right across the globe. About eight main retail supermarket chains currently control virtually the whole food sector right across the world — certainly in Europe.

If you look at the small towns in the South — and small towns are significant, whether in the North or in the South — their picturesque townscapes are a very important part of the tourism industry. That has to be taken into account in terms of planning, and if one out of two shops in a main street are closed or shuttered up, that takes away from the character of those towns. That has to be a serious concern. There are out-of-town shopping centres in the South as well, and the large supermarket retailers have made progress in terms of placement there — there are 20 times more there than in the UK in the last three to five years. That is how quickly they have taken over in that part of the world. [Interruption]

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

There are five different private conversations going on in this room. That is very discourteous to the Member who has the Floor, not to mention very difficult for those who want to concentrate on what he is saying.

Photo of Gerry McHugh Gerry McHugh Sinn Féin

Perhaps people are discussing the repositioning of their argument.

Can there sometimes be a real saving to the customer as a result of large retailers being in a local town? People will often tell you that there is no real saving to be made overall, whether you use the small local shop or the very large supermarket chain, because what is gained on one thing will be lost somewhere else.

Another factor, so far as agriculture is concerned and so far as I am concerned, is the traceability of products. The whole issue of genetically-modified food and imports and their quality can be lost in the business of own-branding. I am concerned about this, but it is the trend and one over which we have very little control.

As far as ‘Strategy 2010’ and other strategies which talk about investment and planning the way forward are concerned, it is important for there to be jobs and investment so that people have money to spend in their own areas. In Fermanagh we lost 600 jobs in the last two to three years. Such areas do not have the money to spend on large supermarkets, so it is also a question of getting the balance right.

In any area there can only be so much of the cake of spending power. The Six Counties is a small area with a small population, so there is only so much money to go around for spending. One has to consider who is going to cut the small retailer out first. I believe that the large supermarket retailers have the power to close down small villages and towns completely.

The other question in rural areas relates to the provision of roads and the infrastructure around these large businesses. The fact that people in small towns do not have cars, or a system of travel to these places, has to be taken into account.

Another issue relates to agriculture and the confusion that was brought in earlier. It is that of local suppliers versus the retailers. The findings of the agriculture report show that large retailers have less loyalty to local suppliers. There have been instances of the large retailers dropping contracts a year into the term of the contract because it suits them better to get their produce from an outside, cheaper source. It is one of the difficulties faced by local farmers and people trying to run small businesses.

Those are many of my concerns. I support the motion.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor UUP

Mr Dallat is to be commended for bringing this motion before the House. It addresses a serious problem for Northern Ireland — one that is a matter of great controversy in the community.

As this is such an important matter, it would increase the prestige of the House if a Minister were to be present to listen and to respond at the end of the debate. Hearing the views of a Parliament or Assembly should always be given priority over other activities.

It may well be that this motion has come too late and that the horse has already bolted. As we have heard, damage has already been done. I particularly dislike the reference to a moratorium. Mr Attwood said that the moratorium would last only until there was a review. Members know that reviews can take many years in Northern Ireland. Therefore there will be a complete stoppage on new large retail outlets in Northern Ireland for years ahead if the Members support Mr Dallat’s motion.

I am against a moratorium for that reason. I know of several major retail projects at an advanced stage of planning which will be located, thank goodness, in town centres. These will provide hundreds of jobs in the centres of our towns, and it would be very damaging to those towns if we supported Mr Dallat’s motion and so prevented these major projects from being able to proceed.

We should not fall into the trap of knocking the large retail outlets like Dunnes, Sainsbury’s, Safeway or Tesco, for in addition to providing jobs, they help the economy of Northern Ireland by purchasing products from our producers. For example, both Sainsbury’s and Tesco are each now buying at least £100 million worth of Ulster-made products — not just to sell in their outlets in Northern Ireland, but also to sell throughout Great Britain.

In Dungannon, for example, Granville Meats benefits tremendously from its contract with Sainsbury’s, and Foyle Meats in Londonderry benefits tremendously from its contract with Tesco. It must not be a knocking operation against the large retail outlets.

It is, however, a major controversial issue, which has had a damaging impact on some of our towns. We have had some good projects like the Tesco one in Dungannon and the Sainsbury’s one in the centre of Armagh city. However, the Abbey Centre, for example, nearly knocked the heart out of Carrickfergus. It is only in recent years, since Tesco opened in the centre of Carrickfergus and the Co-op store opened near the centre of the town, that the economy and retail centre of Carrickfergus have begun to advance again.

The same applies to Belfast. The D5 project and the Tillysburn project are damaging to Holywood and to the great city of Belfast. There is a major planning issue at stake. Some people say that it requires the review of the planning consultancy document, ‘PPS5’. However, I do not subscribe to that. The problem is narrower. It is "What is a town centre?" ‘PPS5’ refers to planning retail outlets in town centres. The issue is how one defines "town centre". In the city of Armagh, where I live, Sainsbury’s built a major store right in the centre of the city, and that was good for the town. However, Tesco now has a plan for Armagh also — way out on the Loughgall Road. When I enquired, I was told "Oh yes, that is inside the town centre." It is about two miles or a mile and a half from the town centre, but, because of the town plan for Armagh, it qualifies as being a town-centre project. However, if that Tesco project goes ahead it will decimate all the privately owned shops in the centre of Armagh city. We need the Minister responsible for planning in Northern Ireland to define "town centre" as a matter of urgency.

Resources will be needed. One of the problems with large retail outlets is that many of them need inquiries to be held. Many are delayed. I know retailers from Britain and the Republic of Ireland who are investing in Northern Ireland. They say that it takes much longer to get planning permission in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the British Isles. Investment here is held back by the planners. That is not because they lack qualifications but because they lack resources and numbers. The real core of the problem is that we need more investment in our planning Department. That would enable town plans, and especially town centres, to be redefined as a matter of urgency, so that large retail outlets can be forbidden to build outside town centres.

Photo of Mark Robinson Mark Robinson DUP 12:30 pm, 2nd October 2000

Is it in order for the Member for Strangford, Mr Taylor, to chastise the Minister for Regional Development for his absence, given that the primary responsibility for the subject lies with the Department of the Environment? The Minister for that Department, Mr Foster, is swanning about in London, supposedly on North/South ministerial business.

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

I understand — and I may look at Hansard — that Mr Taylor did not name any Minister or the reason for a Minister’s absence from the Chamber.

Photo of David Ervine David Ervine PUP

Mr Dallat should not be particularly disappointed. I think that his motion will be defeated, and my party will be assisting in the defeat. I do not think that one sentence can sum up the difficulties that planning issues present to all of us. There are massive concerns. I hear much commentary about out-of-town shopping.

Some short references have been made to suppliers, notably agricultural suppliers. These are important groups to consider, but where does a bakery, which is not an agricultural supplier, fit into the scenario? One wonders how companies manage to make bread in Great Britain and transport it over for less than the cost of making bread here. We can question the percentage of Northern Ireland produce stocked by major retailers here, while considering the fact that European law does not oblige them to stock a minimum percentage of local goods. We are trapped. As Mr Taylor said, the horse may have bolted. We are dealing both with planning issues of the future and the aftermath of planning disaster.

According to Paddy Roche, the situation is fine because everything operates on the basis of profit and loss. Quality of life is affected when small towns are denuded of their shopping facilities. Small towns are not the only areas affected. Some Members may travel to this building by coming off the Sydenham bypass and driving along the Newtownards Road or the Albertbridge Road — roads which, along with others in East Belfast, were previously vibrant shopping areas. If you travel after teatime you will drive along canyons of shuttered premises, with the odd light shining from a takeaway shop and no sense of vigour in the area. This is happening all over society, not just in small towns. The vibrant areas of Belfast which, in the past, were almost like self-contained villages have been massively affected and not just by out-of-town development, by development in the town as well.

I have witnessed dramatic changes in the community where I was born and raised and for which I am an elected Member. I understand these changes more than some because I used to be a shopkeeper. I have worked for a living, contrary to common opinion and possibly that of Mr Roche and the Northern Ireland Unionist Party. As a shopkeeper, I had great difficulty in competing. This was to be expected, given the small square footage of my premises compared to that of the large retailers. Nevertheless, if I had been determined enough I could have filled shopping trolleys in one of the major retail outlets and sold that stock myself to make a better profit than I did from goods bought at a cash and carry.

There is unfairness, but how was it created? Is it simply due to the purchasing power of the big retailers? We have heard it said that they screw the suppliers into the ground. A supplier becomes dependent upon a major retailer because he provides so much work that the supplier has no other business to fall back on. Then, just before his contract is due to be renewed, a so-called negotiation takes place and the supplier is screwed, usually on two counts. He will work for less money this year than he did last year. In Mr Roche’s economic terms, this may be perfectly legitimate, but in my terms it is absolutely abhorrent.

Alternatively, he may be forced to accept a special form of payment for which he has to wait a long time. The millions of pennies a major retailer retains in his bank account before paying money out will accrue substantial interest for the company.

I am also conscious of the plight of milkmen. Not all retailers have shops; some deliver products to the door. In the past, a milkman was regarded as making a valued contribution to society — he may have been the only person an elderly customer saw all day. A friendly face at the door may give sustenance to an elderly, incapable person.

There is a price to be paid for this, of course. For instance, as retailers massively reduce the price of milk, to below the point where a milkman can legitimately deliver and make a profit, it is not just the retailer or the person behind the counter who is affected. There is a knock-on effect, because the producer of the milk has to get his workers to work for less when the time to renew his contract with the main retailer comes up and if the price does not suit, the main retailer will ship in, just as is happening with bread, from Great Britain.

I do not know if Members are aware of this, but the bakery industry and the milk industry have gone through turmoil. The number of employees in bakery manufacture has almost halved, yet hardly a word is said about it. Is it because people do not eat bread? Or has it to do with how we fill the supermarket shelves?

I think that when Mr Dallat put his motion down he was not looking deeply enough at the matter. This is about jobs; this is about quality of life; this is about choice. The population will vote with its feet and go for the best deal. Like the rest of us, the people have to watch their pennies. And it is those who dictate the policies at the till who will have the people coming running towards them. I have seen this close to my home recently. A new supermarket has opened, and it is the flavour of the month. There is no question about it — I cannot get my wife out of it. It is the flavour of the month.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

Don’t give her any more money!

Photo of David Ervine David Ervine PUP

I take risks, but not of that sort.

The major retailer is new, and it is cheap. There is no question about that. Of course, we are in the European Union; it does not matter whether we are French or German, we are entitled to free trade, and much of that is to be applauded. But I lay this challenge down to all of us: I do not believe that my new, local supermarket has 1% of Northern Irish produce on its shelves. Not even 1%. If this is the case it is shameful that we, the politicians, do not exact some price from these people when we welcome them to our bosom and allow them to begin to destroy our quality of life.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I am in an unusual situation today in that I have some sympathy with what Mr Dallat had to say. The motion, as it stands, is not acceptable, but the general idea behind it was good enough, and I certainly have a lot of sympathy with it. I go to towns in my own area, like Dunmurry or Dromore, which were once vibrant shopping towns. Once many people would have been seen during the day going in and out of the shops, and a lot of trade was done in those towns.

Those shops normally bought their goods locally, and the money was reinvested in the community. That was a good thing. However, over 30 years ago supermarkets started to set up. Crazy Prices, Wellworths and other big supermarkets were set up by local people in the first instance. Subsequently those supermarkets were taken over, and many new clothing retailers came to the province. We now have Next and Habitat and Mothercare, all those different companies.

The trouble with Mr Dallat’s motion is that it does not let us know exactly what a major retail outlet is. Is it just the Tescos and the Sainsburys of this world? Is it the Nexts? Is it the Habitats? Where do we stop? Do we stop at a multinational retailer which has a store of 1,500 square feet? Where exactly we stop is not clear.

We had talk of a moratorium, and I was interested in Mr Attwood’s analysis. A moratorium kills off the matter. I could not quite understand what Mr Attwood was trying to say about a moratorium; it just did not make sense. We cannot have a moratorium put in place. Today we are enacting human rights legislation, and one of the key areas of human rights legislation that was taken up, and lost, by the Scottish Parliament related to planning matters.

I have no doubt that if this instruction went to a Minister and he carried out that instruction, the Minister and the Department of the Environment would soon find themselves called to court by a major retailer, and that that court would find in favour of the retailer. So, enacting this particular motion would end up costing the Department of the Environment a substantial amount of money.

It is not legally tenable to carry out this motion, which refers to credible independent retail impact assessments. I am holding a credible independent retail impact assessment that was carried out by Ferguson and McIlveen on behalf of Lisburn Borough Council. It relates to an out-of-town shopping centre that has been proposed for the Sprucefield area of Lisburn. I would like to identify a number of differences between the independent retail impact assessment and what has been put forward on behalf of Stannifer Developments Ltd and J Sainsbury.

With reference to the original assessment from Stannifer Developments Ltd and J Sainsbury, it says that it fails to account for market penetration outside the 20-minute drive time band. It does not acknowledge difference in the trade draw characteristics between comparison and convenience goods; it does not account for trade diverted outside Lisburn town centre; and, most critically, does not adequately justify turnover figures. Moreover, it provides an entirely unrealistic turnover figure, and the degree of trade diversion from the town centre is minimised.

That shows a difference between two retail impact assessments. One provides an honest analysis, and the other an analysis that suits the needs of the person paying for the job to be done. My Colleague, Mr Wilson, clearly made the point that, should a retail impact assessment need to be carried out, it should be carried out by the Department of the Environment. That would be a properly independent retail impact assessment. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune, and in this instance — as I have pointed out — we have the J Sainsbury and Stannifer Developments Ltd people paying the piper and the piper delivering the tune they wanted to hear.

When the council asked for an assessment a completely different scenario was painted. I will just indicate the impact that this would have on the general area of Lagan Valley. J Sainsbury proposed an 80,000 sq ft convenience food store. It is estimated that on current trends they would have a turnover of £700 to £1000 per sq ft. That gives a turnover figure of £56 million to £80 million, and 80% of that trade comes from within 20 miles. That gives in the region of £45 million to £64 million spent within 20 minutes’ drive of Sprucefield roundabout and will include the areas of Banbridge, Craigavon, parts of south Belfast, Ballynahinch and Dromore. If £64 million is being spent in J Sainsbury at Sprucefield, that money has to be taken away from other retailers.

No doubt there will be a big announcement about job creation, both in the construction of the building and that which follows the opening of the new superstore. We have heard it all before. We have heard how many new jobs have been created in Belfast many times when Tesco, Safeway or J Sainsbury open a new store. However, O’Hara’s bakery closed and 350 jobs were lost. A number of other bakeries situated in Belfast closed. A butcher’s shop closed with the loss of four jobs and a greengrocer’s closed with the loss of another eight jobs.

Throughout the city there was a levelling-off effect. The jobs that were created in the supermarkets were lost in the indigenous stores.

We have a great deal of sympathy for Mr Dallat’s proposals. However, in the centre of my own town, Lisburn, a local company with a good track record called Cusp Ltd is to build a £25 million development. It wishes to have a department store as anchor tenant for the scheme. Had this proposal been in place before planning permission was given for the Cusp development, it could not have gone ahead, despite the fact that it is a major development bringing in retailers from outside the Province. It will regenerate an area of Lisburn, bringing more customers in and helping the indigenous shops already in the town, for it will bring extra trade to it. In many areas, this motion would exclude new developments from coming in and setting up in towns.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP 12:45 pm, 2nd October 2000

The Member mentioned Lisburn, but there are very similar examples in Strangford. The Castlebawn development, a £60 million project in Newtownards, will create 300 construction jobs and 1,500 jobs in the business and associated shops. This will reinvigorate the whole centre of Newtownards, for it is within walking distance of it. Does the Member agree that if we accepted Mr Dallat’s proposal today it would stop the development, since planning permission has not yet been granted?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I thank the Member for a further example of the motion’s inadequacy. We should also look at the rates charges of many large retailers. A key advantage of the larger developments is the superabundance of available parking. If someone wishes to go shopping in Belfast city centre during the day he will come back to his car with a bill of £10 or £12. In other towns around the Province it could cost him £4 or £5. At Sprucefield he can stay as long as he wishes, for car parking is free.

The regional strategic framework is supposed to encourage people to move away from private transport towards public transport. One means of encouraging people to use public transport is the introduction of ever higher charges for parking in towns and cities. Supermarkets have free parking, giving them an inbuilt advantage. This can only be counteracted by raising the rateable value of supermarkets and out-of-town centres, leading to their paying more for providing free parking. They would obviously have to charge more for their goods, perhaps resulting in a somewhat more level playing field. That is one of the things which will have to be done for equitable competition between large and small retailers.

The story of small shops is not always black. I know many small shops which have reacted to the current situation and which are now doing very well. They regularly have a loss leader and provide goods at a reasonable price. The element of convenience is much greater. It does not take an hour and a half to get in and out, and they do not have as many shelves to wander round looking for goods. Some small retailers have done very well under present circumstances. Times change, and perhaps it is those retailers who have not changed with the times who find themselves in the greatest difficulty at the moment.

In drawing my remarks to a close, I state my support for those who have urged Mr Dallat to withdraw the motion for today. There could be widespread support for a motion of this nature. It is unfortunate there was not more consultation. I am not aware how much consultation took place in his own party — its members have never mentioned the issue in the Environment Committee. I appeal to him to withdraw it for today and enter into creative consultation with other Members to try to bring forward a motion which would have the Assembly’s support and gain credibility for its Members.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Like other Members, I welcome the opportunity afforded to us by Mr Dallat to discuss this issue; this has been a useful and interesting debate. However, like other Members, I have concerns about the preciseness of the wording of the motion. I should state at the outset that much of what Mr Dallat and other Members who have supported the motion have said in their speeches is generally accepted. However, the motion does not say what they said in their speeches, and that is where the difficulty lies.

I represent a constituency in which there is a plethora of small shops. I am constantly hearing about the difficulties the retailers face in competing against the large supermarkets. These difficulties are obvious. They were explained very well by Mr Ervine, and I agree with what he said. It is difficult for the proposer of any motion to encapsulate, in one sentence, the issues that relate to planning in this sector, and I am not convinced that this motion has approached them in the right way.

One of the defenders of the motion, the Women’s Coalition spokesperson Jane Morrice, ended her remarks with the words "I think that is what this motion is about." The Alliance spokesperson, who generally supported the motion, also had to "think" what the proposer was attempting to say. That indicates that the motion is not precise. I am not going to get party political on this issue, but one thing that we in Northern Ireland should have learnt over a number of years is that before you sign up to something you should make sure you know exactly what it means. Members who sign up to this, either by a show of hands or by going into a Lobby, should be sure they know what it means.

I think I know what the proposer was attempting to say when he talked about credible independent impact assessments. In fact, I am wondering whether he wants more than one when he puts it in the plural. Are there going to be a number of independent assessments? Would you ever get an independent assessment of the impact of a planning application? The people who have argued for it in this debate are right when they say, as did my Friend, Mr Poots, that whoever pays the piper calls the tune. Somebody has to pay for the consultants; I do not know of any who are so altruistic that they would carry out these independent assessments without being paid. Somebody will be calling the tune. If you have the assessment carried out at the behest of one person or another — be it the developer or the Department — will it be truly independent?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

I should be delighted.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

Does not the Member agree that if, as I suggested, the Department of the Environment itself were to commission the impact statement, that would be an independent assessment?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

In the context of planning, no, I do not. When you come to any planning appeal, there are, in effect, two sides to the equation. One will be put by the planner, who is defending the decision that he has taken, and the other by the developer, who is appealing that decision. They are therefore partisan in terms of any hearing that may take place.

I am on a borough council, and you would not get too many councillors from any party represented on the council who are likely to say that the Department acted in an independent way in respect of some of the planning applications that it has been dealing with.

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party

A great deal of consensus is developing about this independent retail assessment and the question of who would pay for it. As Mr Poots suggested, the local authority would be best placed to commission such an assessment, since it encompasses the aggregate interests of the people in the area.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP 1:00 pm, 2nd October 2000

Well, there will be difficulties. I am not sure whether too many councillors would put up their hands to increase the rates by taking on planning responsibilities. I have no problem with increasing the fees for planning applications so as to incorporate an amount that could be used for a planning impact assessment. It is not so much the payment that worries me, but rather who is in control. Who is the person carrying out the assessment going to report to? Ultimately, that is the person who will be calling the tune.

I think I know what Mr Dallat means by "major retail outlets" — that definition is central to his proposed moratorium — but it can mean different things in different areas. A major retail outlet in Belfast would be very different from what might be considered to be a major retail outlet in Strabane. The size of the catchment area and the density of the population would have an influence, unless we directly carry over the Republic’s definition of a major retail outlet, which, I believe, is anything over 30,000 sq ft. I suppose that if you propose a retail outlet of 29,500 sq ft, it will not fall under the moratorium, but I would have thought that in many parts of Northern Ireland, that would be considered to be a very major outlet.

I think that Mr Dallat is talking about out-of-town developments in his motion, but he did not say so, and therefore we must assume that it does not just mean out-of-town retail developments but also town centre developments. A number of Members have described the impact that a moraturium would have. I think the moratorium will give Members major difficulties in supporting this motion. There are two reasons for that, one of which has been mentioned by several Members, including Mr Taylor, and that is that the length of time that the review and consideration of this matter would take would create deadlock for up to a year.

However, in the precise terms of this motion it is a review of the policy that is being sought. I do not honestly think that the policy on these matters is that defective. I do not have great difficulty with the policy. The policy does seek the protection of the vitality of the town centre. The policy is in many ways OK. It is the implementation of that policy that is the problem. There could be a moratorium for a year or two while they look at the policy and introduce another policy which will do exactly the same thing in calling for the vitality of the town centre to be protected, but when it comes to implementation, unless the modus operandi of the planners who operate the system is changed, it will not have done any good at all in terms of the protection of town centres.

Jane Morrice referred to the balance that is necessary. There is a balance that one has to get between the competitiveness that is an essential component from the consumer’s point of view, in terms of prices and choice, and the protection of the vital part of the Northern Ireland culture that is the corner shop, the local trader and all that that means, not only to the town but to rural communities in the Province.

In closing, I thank Mr Dallat for putting down the motion. It has given us an opportunity to discuss the issues, but he will do a disservice to the planning issues that he is attempting to highlight if he proceeds to a vote on this matter. Far better if he takes the course that has been suggested and allows the Environment Committee to look at the wider and deeper issues involved. Without minimising the effort that I am sure he put into the wording of his resolution, the Committee could bring forward something less fuzzy, a bit more precise, with clearer definitions, and perhaps having considered the impact of some of the generalities that he has put down, and in particular his proposed moratorium.

Now that we have had the debate and had the issues aired, I hope that he will consider these issues. I will not make my attack on the Minister of the Environment as savage as that of the Member for Strangford, but I agree that the Minister, Mr Foster, would have been helped if he and his officials had been here for the debate. I hope these matters will be drawn to their attention so that they know what the Assembly feels about these issues. They would be better dealt with by the Environment Committee, instead of by way of a motion that might misinterpret the mood of the Assembly.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank all the Members who took part in this debate, including my Friend Mr Paisley Jnr, who could have been more generous to me. Stupidity, rudimentary fashion, confused Willie — I am surprised he made any mention of sheep this morning, but anyway. Other Members were very constructive in their contributions. Many of them are from rural communities, and I know their hearts are with the motion, despite the fact that the debate began in a strange way and swung off at a tangent. There is nothing in this motion which will put anyone in a cul-de-sac or cause problems for them in the future. The credible independent impact assessment has been welcomed repeatedly. Moratoriums do not have to last for ever. They only need to last until there is a policy in place. Before he left, John Taylor said that the horse has already bolted for many people. It is right and proper that this suggestion is in place. For many people this debate has come too late. For many this Assembly came into being too late.

It would be unfortunate if this debate were used to pit one sector of the retail community against the other. That is not what is being suggested. I acknowledge that there are 20,000 people employed in major retail outlets, but the sector is dominated by what are commonly know as "the seven sisters of the superstores". The fear is that eventually this may develop into a monopoly, or even a cartel. I am pleased that there are representatives of 1,100 independent retailers listening to this morning’s debate. They represent 20,000 people, and they have every reason to believe that there is a renewed threat to their jobs, as a new wave of competition comes from the United States and from Europe. I have not said anything to oppose the existing supermarkets. I shop in them myself. I would be a hypocrite if I suggested that they should not be there. However, there is time for a reassessment of the situation.

It is right and proper that this debate has taken place. I am pleased that, despite their opposition to the wording of the motion, most Members agree that it should be accepted. Perhaps those who are vehemently opposed to it need to take time off to visit the places that they named. I encourage Mr Paisley Jnr to talk to Moores of Coleraine and to the other independent retailers there. I am sorry he is not in the Chamber to listen to this.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Oh, he is. Why is he hiding in the back row?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

Does the Member want to give way to me?

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Perhaps the next time he is in Coleraine he will look up the unemployed workers of Reid’s Bakery. Perhaps he will ask them what they think of the large superstores and what they did to their jobs. Perhaps he should go down to Tandragee and speak to the Tayto workers to find out how important the independent retail market is for their product. I hope he buys it, since he is a Member of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.

He knows as well as I do that there are serious problems with the large multiples.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Sorry. I am summing up. You had all the time in the world.

Let me emphasise that there is nothing negative in this motion. On the contrary, it is an acknowledgement that we have something special in Northern Ireland which is well worth protecting. Whether it be Cullybackey — that is in north Antrim, by the way — Cullyhanna, Kilrea or Kildress or, indeed, any other town or village, it is worth making an effort to ensure that for future generations communities continue to have shops and local services.

The same is true of urban areas and I am glad that Members from those areas contributed. Whether it be the Falls or the Shankill, the Cregan or Waterside, the same is equally true. Each year at least £750 million in net revenue is exported from Northern Ireland to the bank accounts of multinationals in other places. The prospect of their increased turnover through the proliferation of even more stores is a bleak one for Northern Ireland economy in the long term. It must be taken into account in future planning.

The circumstances in which we have found ourselves over the last 30 years means that our economy has had to undergo serious change squeezed into a five-year span. The Assembly has the opportunity to establish a clear policy that will protect the local retailing infrastructure. That will ensure that there continues to be a vibrant independent retail sector providing for the needs of our people and that there never can be a fear of monopoly.

Reference was made to ‘Strategy 2010’, which should be implemented. At the same time, consideration should be given to commissioning a retail capacity study as recommended by EDAW. There should be a strategic review of planning policy to make sure that the future structure of retailing in Northern Ireland best meets our unique economic and social needs.

Finally — and there was some reference to this — steps should be taken to implement existing legislation in relation to rural rates relief. We should also introduce the further measure of rates relief for small town centre retailers, again as recommended in ‘Strategy 2010’, to prevent more small shops closing and further damage to the retail economy.

Despite the divisions, this has been a good day for the Assembly. People will see that we are interested in the affairs of our local communities and we are concerned about the people who live and work there. Collectively, we could have demonstrated a common purpose to protect and preserve what is best. At the same time, we can make it clear that change, when it comes, must be controlled and managed, and does not have the potential for destroying the very things we hold precious — our people and the communities in which they live.

Many people in this community need protection. We have made a very strong case for the farming community, which I back totally. Fundamental change is taking place there, but nobody is arguing that it should not be managed and controlled. Those in the independent retail sector — 20,000 people — deserve some rights too.

Finally — and this is where there was some distortion — if there is not an independent retail sector the housewife will have no choice. People will become slaves to a monopoly. The second phase of that monopoly is on its way from America and Europe. Time does not stand still. This Assembly was set up to address these issues. By and large, they have been addressed this morning in a responsible manner by all Members, with, I regret to say, one exception.

Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 33; Noes 39.


Gerry Adams, Alex Attwood, Joe Byrne, John Dallat, Arthur Doherty, Pat Doherty, Mark Durkan, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, John Kelly, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, Barry McElduff, Michael McGimpsey, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Jane Morrice, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Mary Nelis, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, John Tierney. [Tellers: John Tierney and Eugene McMenamin]


Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Tom Benson, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Nigel Dodds, David Ervine, John Gorman, William Hay, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Danny Kennedy, William McCrea, Alan McFarland, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, George Savage, Jim Shannon, John Taylor, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

Question accordingly negatived.

The sitting was suspended at 1.26 pm.

On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) —