Following the news that the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has withdrawn their holding direction on the planning application for the prospective Lakelands Retail and Leisure Park on the former Unipork factory site, one local businessman says those who approved the application will need to be held to account if it fails to materialise as promised.

The development of the site in Enniskillen by Elm Grange Limited proposed a £15.5m investment capable of creating 450 new jobs.

The proposal comprises six retail units, a 54-bedroom hotel, cinema, bowling alley, petrol station, food outlet as well as more than 750 parking spaces.

Michael Cadden, of Pat’s Bar and The Enniskillen Hotel in the town, accepts there does not seem to be many other avenues for objectors to go down following the latest news but believes it will be further down the line when the results of this planning application will be seen.

“The British government are pushing now to reinvigorate these town centres because they built out of town shopping centres and closed down the town,” he said.

“People are not going to pay rent and rates on buildings in that town if there is nobody there. It becomes a very simple business decision.

“It smacks directly against any current understanding of how to reinvigorate towns and it is the absolute absurdity of doing this in the face of the information that they have including our own incredibly expensive area plan, which is town centre first.”

Mr. Cadden said Enniskillen town centre is one of a kind and this development will rip the heart out of it.

“Enniskillen is the last town in Northern Ireland and nobody is holding it precious. Drive around Omagh and see what is left in the town. Drive around Lurgan and Strabane.

“Enniskillen is so unique with what it has got left and everybody wants what they don’t have.

“Instead of accepting what we do have is an incredibly unique island town centre, which is a massive tourist attraction and a massive benefit. And they are just willingly ripping the heart out of it to have what other people have.”

And, he has called for the developers to deliver: “They are going to have to be held to account to build what they said they are going to build.”

And he also is calling for the Council to be held to account in the future.

“I’d love to see what the Council thinks in 12 or 18 months’ time. It is this sitting Council that need to be held to account in its entirety, not just the planning committee.

“It is my honest fear that this current Council’s legacy will be the death knell of Enniskillen town centre. This isn’t evolution, the evidence for what happens next is clear across the UK and Ireland.”

Mr. Cadden said the Council were putting their necks on the line by approving the application.

“There is a bigger risk to allowing it than not allowing it.

“And if they do a survey on job creation and if they haven’t created jobs somebody needs to be going and asking the questions.

“I would be interested to see the evidence, in three years’ time, of building what is planned and I would be really interested in what the process will be if what has been passed isn’t built,” he concluded.

When asked what the next steps were in the planning application a spokesperson for Fermanagh and Omagh District Council following DfI’s decision said: “The Department for Infrastructure letter of the 26 March 2022 was presented to the Planning Committee on the 28 March 2022 for noting. The Council is currently assessing the correspondence and its implications and an update will be provided to Members in due course.”

With further steps to be taken in the process, the Lakelands Retail and Leisure Park developer’s, Elm Grange Ltd, said it would not comment at this time .