A public inquiry into a multi-million pound retail development at Sprucefield is set to begin today after months of delays.
The Planning Appeals Commission probe into the £150m John Lewis-anchored development outside Lisburn has been beset by delay due to disagreements over the filing of documentation.
Traders in Lisburn, Belfast, Craigavon and Banbridge have said they are opposed to the development because the anchor department store — which would be the first John Lewis in Ireland — is to be accompanied by 19 other shops.
The traders are concerned their trade will be damaged by the 19 units and have brought a number of legal actions which have helped stall the planning process.
Last week, Craigavon Centre Ltd and Bow Street Mall, a shopping centre in Lisburn, won leave to apply for a judicial review over alleged irregularities in the advertising of environmental information.
But the public inquiry will at least open today, though lawyers are expected to seek to have it put off until legal matters are resolved in the High Court.
Traders claim it should have been up to the Department of the Environment, rather than the applicant, to place newspaper advertisements about the scheme.
The barrister for Bow Street Mall claimed there had been an attempt to “fast track” the application, which is the third to have been made for the development by applicants Snoddons and shopping centre giant Westfield.
A John Lewis was first mooted in 2004, when planning permission was granted by then Environment Minister Lord Rooker.
He said giving the go-ahead to the store was a “no-brainer”.
Supporters say up to 2,000 jobs would be created at the new development, including 700 jobs at the first John Lewis on the island.