Plans for a John Lewis department store at Sprucefield could be a step closer after the retail park's new owner vowed to travel to Northern Ireland to discuss it with planners and politicians.
Proposals by the department store giant, one of the UK's most successful retailers, to open up at the site outside Lisburn have suffered numerous setbacks in the past 10 years since the would-be development was first mooted.
Opponents have said it would kill off trade in Belfast and Lisburn – though supporters argue it will bring £150m in investment and 1,500 jobs to the area. In January last year, then Environment Minister Alex Attwood said retail at the park should be limited to 'bulky goods' – prompting John Lewis to withdraw its application.
However, property company Intu plc said it would look into reviving the controversial plans after it bought the retail park, which already has big stores such as Sainsbury's, Toys 'R' Us and Argos, for £68m.
A spokesman for John Lewis said it had no comment to make on whether its plans might be revived.
The Lisburn retail park was part of a package of more expensive assets being sold by owner Westfield, which had made the original planning application.
Intu chief operating officer Mike Butterworth said it already had a good working relationship with John Lewis and the department store operated in four of its existing shopping centres.
The firm is aware of the debate over the John Lewis application.
"I am aware it's been controversial and that Westfield applied to get planning consent for John Lewis. But I think it's a good idea for the site," said Mr Butterworth.