Planning Service in embarrassing u-turn over court summons
Five local business men at the centre of a bizarre Planning Service warning and court summons have been told by Environment Minister Alex Attwood that no further action would be taken.
Hill Street businessman Declan McChesney, owner of Cahill Brothers in Hill Street, was one of five local businesses who put up a banner (pictured right) welcoming customers back to Hill Street and Monaghan Street after the disruption caused by the Public Realm Scheme last year.
Speaking exclusively to Newry Times, Declan said the local businesses pitched in and they put the banner up in September 2012 as a way of welcoming the local customers back into the area and as a way to to say thank you for their patience while the Public Realm Scheme caused some upheaval and disruption.
However, the Planning Service deemed the banner to be in breach of advertising guidelines and Declan says he and the other business men involved received a letter from Planning Service in October requesting that they take the banner down immediately.
Despite receiving the warning letter, Declan and the other business men believed the letter and warning was unfair and totally at odds with the economic reality in the area and kept the banner up. It was then taken down just after Christmas.
Yesterday however, the issue got more serious when the five received a court summons which indicated they would be appearing in Newry Magistrates Court on 19th March 2013 for failure to take the banner down.
Declan explained the feelings of the business men after receiving the letter yesterday. “We were really angry. In fact, we were absolutely stunned and appalled when we read the letter.”
After reading the letter Cahill Brothers vented their anger on their Facebook page and word soon spread across the city.
Declan continued, “The reaction and response to our status update on Facebook was quite incredible. Word spread really quickly and as soon as Newry Times got involved it really gained momentum.
“People really started to take notice and since the articles appeared on Newry Times last night and this morning I have had loads of calls from well wishers, the Council and even the Stephen Nolan show, who are interested in covering it.”
The support from the local community has humbled Declan, who is the third generation to run the 140 year old Cahill Brothers store in Hill Street. “The support today has been amazing. People have called into the shop to say they support me and the other businesses totally.
“They’re all just as disgusted as we are and their support has been incredible.”
The government are putting out mixed signals according to Declan. “On one hand they’re promising to promote local businesses and do everything in their power to help revitalise the high streets then on the other hand they are threatening legal action over something trivial which we are actually doing to promote the area.”
“The banner was 40 feet above the ground, wasn’t getting in anyone’s way and was never going to hurt anybody, so why they decided to take such action is beyond comprehension.”
The Hill Street debacle then took an unexpected turn this afternoon, Declan explained. “Environment Minister Alex Attwood called me this afternoon and apologized for what happened. He assured me that the matter would go no further and the court case would not proceed. I think this was a very positive response.”
Declan, however, is adamant that this incident wont deter him or other local businesses from doing everything in their power to promote the area. “We all have pride in Hill Street. It’s the heartbeat of Newry and we will continue to innovate and promote it as much as we can.”
He added, “I appreciate the coverage from Newry Times and the support from everybody on Facebook and Twitter as well as everybody who called into the shop and phoned to support us.”
Speaking to Newry Times just minutes ago, Environment Minister Alex Attwood said, “I became aware of this issue this morning. Planning should not have issued these summonses. I instructed Planning that the cases are not to be proceeded with and the Department will advise the courts in due course.
“Government needs to help the retail industry, local and small traders, in particular during these difficult times. This is very much behind the planning decisions I have taken recently.
He added, “A summons in this case is the wrong message and Planning accepts this. Today my senior planners met with all staff in our Divisional Planning Offices.
“This point was stressed to local staff. I am contacting shop owners in Newry to advise them that this case will not be pursued.”
Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin was glad the issue was resolved before it came in front of a court. “As I said previously I was hopeful that this issue could be resolved before the date of 19th March and obviously events have accelerated with the news of the Planning Minister’s involvement.
“I will be interested to see the outcome of the Minister’s intervention in terms of planning policy and policy implementation as I know many others who have been in similar enforcement situations.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Pat McGinn, who has been very vocal recently in his support of local businesses and was one of the masterminds behind the ‘Shop Local’ council initiative added, “All those involved in this debacle are not law breakers but business people who are trying to ensure the sustainability of employment and services.
“I would hope that sanity will prevail. This should be about rewarding initiative not using bureaucracy for the sake of it.”
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