Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

John Lewis partner firm opposes Sprucefield bid

A partner in the mammoth John Lewis development at Sprucefield has also been named as part of a consortium opposing the plans.

An application seeking leave to have a judicial review into the holding of a planning inquiry has been lodged by House of Fraser Limited, Corbo Properties Limited and Leaside Investments Limited in respect of John Lewis Sprucefield. Legal proceedings are to begin this week.

Leaside Investments is planning the landmark Royal Exchange development in Belfast city centre. The partners are Belfast development firm William Ewart, Dutch multinational firm ING and Snoddons Construction of Hillsborough — which is also involved in the Sprucefield plans.

Northern Ireland’s biggest-ever planning inquiry into plans for the 500,000 sq ft extension to the Sprucefield shopping centre near Lisburn, in which department store operator John Lewis plans to occupy a 240,000 sq ft anchor store, has been delayed for almost two years.

In a statement last week, opponents to the development said: “This issue is not, in any way, about being anti-John Lewis.

“This is about protecting towns and city centres and about a proper application of the planning regulations.”

Snoddons Construction did not have anyone available to comment to the Business Telegraph last night, but the company has received sympathy from commercial property experts.

One consultant said that the situation was “peculiar”.

“Snoddons is clearly a shareholder in the Royal Exchange project but did not envisage that there would be opposition from Leaside to the Sprucefield project. It is a peculiar situation and something not of their own making,” he said.

Meanwhile, Glynn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retailers Association (NIIRTA), said he met Andy Street, managing director at John Lewis Partnership at the Conservative party conference yesterday.

Mr Roberts said he assured the company that smaller businesses were not against the company coming to Northern Ireland — just the current planned location.

“I had a short meeting with Mr Street and made it clear that NIIRTA at least and most of the companies we represent want John Lewis in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The issue is that we want the company in a town or city centre to help redistribute footfall among smaller, independent retailers and improving the local economy, rather than it being sited in an out-of-town site which would attract custom away from our towns and cities and have a knock-on effect on smaller businesses.”

Up to 2,000 jobs were to be created, including around 700 at the first John Lewis store in Ireland.

Planning permission was granted at first, only to be overturned following a legal challenge by other traders.

Meanwhile a radio interview by the environment minister may have strengthened any allegation of bias over a John Lewis development plan, a judge has told the court dealing with the review.

Lord Justice Girvan referred to comments made by Edwin Poots on Radio Ulster's Nolan Show last Friday, in which he accused businesses of showing a sudden interest in “newts and badgers” in attempts to stall unwanted commercial developments.

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