Hundreds of existing and potential future jobs in Waterford city centre could be put at risk if the flow of retail activity to the suburbs is not stemmed.

That’s according to one of the country’s leading commercial property consultants who claims the €280m Newgate Centre is well positioned to consolidate shopping in the heart of Waterford and stop the shift towards out-of-town locations – a trend brought into sharp focus by the planning row centring on the TK Maxx store at Butlerstown Retail Park.

Neil Bannon, managing director of Bannon Commercial, is letting agent for the Newgate Centre which finally secured approval from An Bord Pleanála last November. The consortium behind it, KRM Construction Partnership, have promised to create over 600 jobs during construction and upwards of 1,200 full- and part-time positions on completion of the project.

Mr Bannon told ‘The Munster Express’ that the development represents a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity for Waterford city centre to fight off the threat from suburban retail outlets.

“There’s a very real risk of Waterford developing a ‘doughnut’ pattern of development where new retail investment goes almost exclusively to developments on the edge of the city or indeed outside the city boundary, whether at Butlerstown, Co Waterford or Ferrybank, Co Kilkenny.

“The scale of the retail space planned at Newgate Centre is such that it could accommodate the likes of TK Maxx, Mothercare and Argos Extra in a city centre location that helps revitalise Waterford and attract shoppers to other stores in the city which are currently struggling to survive.

“This is consistent with best international practice where huge importance is placed on the primacy of city centres which need positive protection from retail parks sprawling out to car-dependent locations where they add little local value,” he added.

Newgate Centre confidence

Mr Bannon explained: “Big name retailers act as attractors for shoppers and it is this type of ‘magnet’ that Waterford city centre requires if hundreds of existing jobs in retail are to be saved and more created. These stores also sell items that aren’t heavy or bulky so there’s no need for them to be at peripheral locations.”

Pressed to comment on whether the Newgate Centre is likely to proceed given the recession and ‘credit crunch’, he confirmed he had met partners Dan Kickham and Ciaran Redmond in recent days and they remain confident of delivering on the ambitious scheme.

“Obviously, no development is immune from the economic downturn but this was always going to be a project that would take time to bring to completion. This shouldn’t stop it happening and doesn’t lessen the case for Waterford building up its retail core around this development.”

Asked whether Marks & Spencer could locate at Newgate Centre rather than one of the ‘out of town’ developments they have previously been linked with, the property consultant said: “The maximum benefit to Waterford from attracting a retailer like Marks & Spencer would definitely be from them trading in the city centre and Newgate Centre is the only viable option if that is to happen. Waterford is the largest Irish urban centre that M&S are not currently operating in so it certainly makes a logical next move for them.”

TK Maxx moving?

Meanwhile, this newspaper was unable to verify at the time of going to press reports that TK Maxx was planning a move into the city centre, at Railway Square.