Ballymena: Green Pastures 'urban village' is approved by councillors
A major redevelopment project centred around an evangelical church in County Antrim has been approved by councillors.
Green Pastures church plans to build an urban village on the edge of Ballymena, with housing, business parks, a hotel and community facilities.
Planners recommended the project for approval on Tuesday.
The planning committee of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has now voted to pass the application.
Five councillors voted in favour of the application, with four voting against it.
Under local government reforms, Northern Ireland's 11 new super-councils now have the final say over most planning decisions.
Pastor Jeff Wright, who founded Green Pastures, told the committee they would be "saying yes" to 1,000 jobs.
Green Pastures has said the development will create 100 apprenticeships, 80 safe houses for vulnerable adults and 104 care places for children with special needs.
Planners had previously rejected a supermarket element of the plan, saying it would undermine the viability and vitality of the town centre.
But a revised application reducing the size of the supermarket from 6,100sq m to 4,100sq m was accepted this week.
The planners said the smaller retail scheme now complies with planning policies.
Councillor Robert Logan, the chair of the planning committee, said the application had been "long-running and complex".
"The committee understands that not everyone in Ballymena will be in favour of the development. However, this decision was based on the evidence that was presented to the committee.
"Every planning decision made by councillors is made on a professional basis, in line with policy and taking into account the advice provided by our planning experts."
In a statement, the Green Pastures project board said the committee had made a "once in a lifetime decision which will leave a lasting legacy for generations to come".
"All of this is a not-for-profit project with the primary purpose of helping people," it added.
"At a time when job losses and cutbacks are looming over our town, we believe this is an incredible good news story which will bring spending power back to our borough."
Ian Paisley, the DUP MP for the area, said a food superstore is "the lynchpin" of the project.
"Without this building block, foundation stone, the application wouldn't proceed at all," he said.
"Ballymena is about to lose 870 jobs at beginning of 2017. If you don't have jobs, you won't have spend for any shop whether an edge-of-town or town centre."
But his party colleague, Paul Frew MLA, objected to the proposal on the basis that it would harm Ballymena town centre.
He told the committee: "I support Green Pastures in their outreach within Ballymena. I also support the application for a church and social housing and some large-scale retail.
"But I cannot support an out-of-town shopping centre which will have a devastating effect for at least 300 years."
An objection was also raised by the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association.
Its chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "This application belongs in the past, not the future."