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Sprucefield best spot for a John Lewis in Northern Ireland, insists MP despite critical research

By Margaret Canning

Published 28/09/2016

John Lewis workers stack shelves at the firm’s branch in Exeter, England
John Lewis workers stack shelves at the firm’s branch in Exeter, England

Sprucefield remains the only viable location for a John Lewis store in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.

Lagan Valley DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson spoke as a report claimed retail in Belfast would lose out on £47m in investment and 5,000 jobs without another high-end project.

The research, by retail consultants Javelin and commissioned by Belfast City Council, said that Belfast would lose its capacity to attract high-spenders without a multimillion-pound injection from a high-end department store such as John Lewis or the upmarket Harvey Nichols.

And it called John Lewis setting up in Sprucefield the "worse case scenario" for the city.

However, Sir Jeffrey, who has been a major supporter of John Lewis setting up in the area, claimed that Sprucefield was still the only viable location for a retailer of its size.

"John Lewis itself has indicated it needs a catchment area capable of pulling in 2 million visitors - and only Sprucefield, which is located along the Belfast to Dublin corridor, is capable of doing that," he said.

Shopping centre giant INTU, which owns Sprucefield Park - the proposed site for the department store - said: "We have always said that we want to invest to re-shape the park and make it a destination of pride for Lisburn and also the wider area as a flourishing place to shop, eat and relax.

"It is too early to say what those plans may be until more certainty is provided through planning policy."

John Lewis said it would not be commenting on the report.

Javelin's research - revealed in the Irish News yesterday - also placed Belfast at number 16 in the top 19 of best-performing shopping UK cities for retail.

But it added that a more "aspirational" retailer such as John Lewis offer would attract crucial higher-spending consumers.

Earlier this year, Sir Jeffrey called for restrictions on development at Sprucefield Park to be lifted.

An earlier plan for development had restricted expansion of Sprucefield to bulky goods only.

A spokeswoman for Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council said yesterday: "The addition of any major retail development would be welcomed by any town or city across Northern Ireland.

"Ultimately, investors will make their own business decisions based on the strategic and financial viability of any potential investment site."

Belfast City Council refused to comment on the contents of the report, which is set to be put before councillors next week.

Three years ago, John Lewis rejected setting up in a proposed Royal Exchange development in Belfast, saying it did not offer "sufficient sales potential".

Belfast Telegraph

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