Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Alex Attwood branded a 'disaster' after John Lewis ditches store plan

Environment Minister Alex Attwood has issued new planning restrictions for retail developments
Environment Minister Alex Attwood has issued new planning restrictions for retail developments

An SDLP councillor has refused to support the decision by his party colleague, Environment Minister Alex Attwood, that led to retail giant John Lewis scrapping plans to open in Northern Ireland.

Angry Lisburn councillors said the SDLP "minister of disaster" had killed off the possibility of 1,500 jobs and £150m of investment at Sprucefield.

John Lewis and another company in the project on the outskirts of Lisburn withdrew their application last week, leading to calls for the minister to resign.

The move came after Mr Attwood's decision to restrict the scale of the scheme to outlets selling bulky goods – which would exclude John Lewis.

Mr Attwood defended his position by quoting the Belfast First retail planning policy – although that sparked fury and accusations of a bias towards the capital at the expense of other cities and towns.

At a Planning Committee meeting at Lisburn City Council on Monday night, members called for his resignation and recorded a vote of no confidence in the minister.

DUP mayor William Leathem, said that the investment and the promise of 1,500 jobs "have been squashed at the hands of Alex Attwood". He added: "Last Thursday, I called for his resignation and I still stand over that.

"How can a Belfast elected representative be so biased against other areas outside Belfast?

"John Lewis really had no other option but to make the announcement they made; it's not their fault. The blame firmly lies with Minister Attwood."

He added: "Again I call on Mr Attwood to do the decent thing and resign. If he refuses to resign his party leader should be put under pressure to remove him."

The UUP's Jim Dillon said that John Lewis will go to Dublin if it isn't possible to locate a Northern Ireland store at Sprucefield.

"Minister Attwood has turned out as Minister of the Environment to be a minister of disaster – the biggest disaster any minister has ever made," he said.

SDLP councillor Patrick Catney said he was wasn't there to defend Mr Attwood's decision to limit the development.

"I also was very dismayed and feel very challenged at that decision," Mr Catney said.

"I'm asking that we write to the minister and we try to put pressure on him to change his mind."

Councillors agreed to send letters to John Lewis and Westfield confirming their commitment to the Sprucefield scheme.

They also said they would be writing to the first ministers, the Executive and SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell.

Background

There have been calls for the Environment Minister Alex Attwood's resignation after he officially advised a forthcoming planning tribunal that a 20-shop development that included a John Lewis superstore should not be allowed at Sprucefield, near Lisburn. The developers responded to the news by withdrawing their planning application and saying there is no other suitable location in Northern Ireland.

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