THE long-running saga of the proposed Lakeland Retail Park proposed for the former Unipork site in Enniskillen will next be returned to by officials later this month, or in May, as the decision-making process rumbles on.

The Chair of the Planning Committee in Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Councillor Robert Irvine, has said: “The earliest it [the proposed Lakeland Retail Park for the site] will come to committee is April or May ... The proposal is still with the Planning Officer team, and has not yet come to committee.

"When it [the recommendation from the Planning Committee] comes to the Committee, there will be a decision as to what is to happen.

"When it came before the Committee before, it came forward with a refusal.”

There was some public confusion when the issue of redeveloping the site of the former Unipork factory was before the Committee in December, and the decision was deferred.

Explaining this rationale to The Impartial Reporter, Councillor Irvine said: “The Committee decided there were issues that possibly needed further discussion between the officials, the applicants, and indeed, the objectors, to tease out certain elements.

“The application will come back before [the Committee], because it is a major application and must come before the Committee, and it will come with a recommendation from the officers, be that a refusal or an approval, depending on what has taken place with regard to the further discussions.”

The councillor encouraged those who had comments on the development to engage directly with Council officials via the Planning Department portal.

Meanwhile, adding a new layer to the proposed development's mix, retailer The Range has written to the Chief Executive of the Council to commit to opening a store at the proposed Lakelands Retail Park.

In the letter, Mike Cotter – Head of Property with the retail giant – confirmed that the company is keen to bring a store to Enniskillen.

Having considered other options in the town, The Range has identified the proposed development for the former Unipork site as the only viable option for its outlet.

The company also acknowledged the significant public support for the proposed development at the Unipork site, and noted that such public sentiment gave them “confidence” that Lakelands, if given the go-ahead, would prove to be a strong trading location for them.

Frank Curran, of would-be Lakelands developer Elm Grange, said: “We welcome this letter from The Range who have once again expressed their commitment and desire to open a new store at Lakelands Retail Park.

"Having assessed other sites in the town, the company has concluded that none offer the sort of flexibility required to accommodate their needs.

“This development has the potential to be transformative for Enniskillen and the surrounding area, taking an abandoned site on the edge of town, and delivering an attractive retail and leisure experience that complements the retail offering in the town centre.

“While The Range already has three stores in Northern Ireland, the store in Enniskillen would be the first in the Fermanagh and Tyrone region, and it would undoubtedly encourage more shoppers into the area – something that can only benefit the town as a whole.”