Green Pastures’ radical proposals to construct a new 97-acre ‘mini-village’ on the fringes of Ballymena look set to be given the green light.
The aim of the Gateway Project, to be sited at Ballee, is to provide a business park, training, social and student housing, a nursing home, a large church, hotel and retail premises.
However, those opposed to the plans claim its retail aspects could harm trade in the town centre - which is already suffering from low occupancy rates.
Planners initially rejected a proposal for a mixed-use hub, a component regarded as key by the church.
Green Pastures had sought permission for businesses on the site including a food superstore, petrol station, drive-thru restaurant, entertainment centre, health centre, taxi office and car parking.
Now it would seem planners are set to recommend approval of the development at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Planning Committee this Thursday.
Plans also include 200 houses, a 60-bed hotel and 40-bed nursing home, factory with training facilities, and a church capable of holding 4,500 people.
New leisure facilities including a football pitch have also been given the provisional go-ahead.
Paperwork from planners to be presented to the council states: “Although there were 44 objections, many of these were multiple letters issued by the same objectors.
“As stated, the letters of objection generally related to the impact of the proposal on Ballymena town centre and nature conservation concerns.
“The council believes that these have generally been addressed by the reduction of the superstore from 6100sqm to 4100 sqm.”
It adds: “Overall, given the location of the proposal within an the development limits of Ballymena, the recommendation of approval by the specialised retail unit within the Department and the possibility of a major employment boost for this area, it is recommended that this proposal be approved.”
Planners have included some conditions prior to full approval being given, including the appearance of buildings and the site, roads access and the sizes of various buildings.
Archaeological work will also be conducted on the site before any diggers move in.
Green Pastures was formed in 2007 by Pastor Jeff Wright, son of industrialist William Wright who steered Wrightbus into its current role as one of Northern Ireland’s most successful businesses.
The church is said to have a congregation of around 1000 people.
A new church planned for the Ballee site will have a capacity for 4,500 people.
Around 66 acres of the site are earmarked for residential development, breaking down as 214 houses, 61 social housing units, 56 private houses and 100 student dwellings.
The Gateway Project has the backing of North Antrim MP Ian Paisley jnr who, at the unveiling of the plans for the site, said: “This will be one of the area’s largest investment and regeneration projects redeveloping land, creating employment and opening up a strategic area of the locality.
“Hundreds of people could find employment through such a social enterprise and this rebuilds a society and creates more opportunity.
“I am very encouraged by what they have identified and I look forward to seeing the project develop.”