Belfast Telegraph

Business Soapbox: Should developers get go-ahead for John Lewis store at Sprucefield

FOR: Jeffrey Donaldson

We need to think about the messages that the experience sends out to other potential investors ... they'll do research and the answers about planning won't be good, so they'll probably choose somewhere else with less risk

If we can deliver John Lewis at Sprucefield, it will be good for Northern Ireland in so many ways. It must be nearly 10 years since John Lewis decided that Northern Ireland was a place it wanted to be, a place where it wanted to make a huge commitment and where the company planned to create almost 1,000 jobs. To date, Northern Ireland has successfully frustrated delivery of that commitment. Thankfully John Lewis has not given up and still wants to come.

The community has also made its wishes clear - they want this to happen and to happen quickly. The objectors to the scheme are almost entirely commercial competitors who fear the introduction of a retailer of the quality of John Lewis.

Some of those fears are understandable - those from the smaller independents with genuine concerns - but others are purely commercial from major shopping centres that can afford to fund prolonged legal battles through the courts.

In the current challenging economic environment in both Lisburn and Northern Ireland, we cannot afford to miss any opportunity to secure investment and create jobs.

We have a world-class investor who has chosen Northern Ireland, wants to create 1,000 long-term jobs, they don't want any money from Government and they have been banging on the door for over six years.

We really need to think about the messages that the John Lewis experience sends out to other potential inward investors - they meet and they talk and if an international investor needs a new site and Northern Ireland is an option, they'll do their research and the answers about planning won't be good - so they'll probably choose somewhere else with less risk.

Both John Lewis and the developers, Westfield, who are global leaders in investment, have recognised the concerns of the local traders and acknowledged the need to work with town centres to mitigate those concerns.

We probably have one more chance to make this wonderful opportunity a reality.

When global brand leaders such as John Lewis offer an opportunity, we've got to grab it, welcome it and through effective delivery, encourage others to come.

AGAINST: Eamonn Loughrey

As well as reducing footfall and spend in towns and cities, the Sprucefield development will potentially deter future investment - indeed it is clear that many jobs will be lost with Belfast alone set to lose £100m

Seven years after the original planning application for a major new shopping centre including John Lewis at Sprucefield was submitted, the battle continues between those for and against the proposal. With the date for the public inquiry into the controversial plans still to be announced, it is likely that it will be some time until a final decision is made on the proposed development.

The proposal in total amounts to a town centre of over 500,000 sq ft of retail built around a car park beside a motorway.

There are many reasons why it would be bad for Northern Ireland to allow this proposal to get through but the key argument relates to the protection of towns and city centres.

Locating John Lewis at Sprucefield will threaten existing retail centres like Lisburn and Belfast by attracting customers to an out-of -town location.

In fact, if John Lewis and the other units get the go-ahead at the Sprucefield site, it is estimated that Belfast alone stands to lose circa £100m.

As well as reducing footfall and spend in towns and cities, the Sprucefield development will potentially deter future investment - indeed, it is clear that many jobs will be lost.

With the Department for Social Development (DSD) increasing its investment in our towns and cities from £26m to £33m by 2013, dropping back to £28m by 2015, allowing the plans to go ahead will be a complete waste of taxpayers money as Sprucefield will take trade out of the same centres DSD is investing in.

In addition, Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS5) aims to provide retailing in locations where all consumers can benefit from it.

The proposals go against these objectives with the most disadvantaged parts of Northern Ireland being left with their traditional city and town centres that will have declined and suffered from underinvestment.

With research showing that other excellent locations across Northern Ireland would be better placed for such a development - including Royal Exchange in Belfast - the case for the proposed development at Sprucefield looks even less convincing.

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