Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster's legal bid to halt Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP)

By Alan Erwin and David Young

A clash between two Stormont ministers over a planning blueprint for grater Belfast has ended up in the courts.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is to seek the suspension of the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) as part of her legal challenge to its approval by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, the High Court in Belfast heard.

Mr Durkan is facing judicial review proceedings over his decision to give the green light to BMAP. The framework identifies zones for retail, residential and commercial development across the city and outlying areas such as Carrickfergus, Castlereagh Lisburn, Newtownabbey and north Down.

But the DUP's Mrs Foster is taking Mr Durkan to court for adopting the plan in September 2013.

She claims her colleague in the power-sharing administration breached the ministerial code by publishing BMAP without bringing it before the Executive for full approval.

Mr Durkan has vowed to defend any challenge to his decision, and has previously described Mrs Foster's court challenge as a "waste of public money".

He also urged others in the Stormont Executive against wasting public money on a protracted legal battle.

BMAP sets out planning priorities for the greater Belfast area, and creates development zones earmarked for retail, commercial or residential uses.

It was adopted by Mr Durkan in September 2013 after one of the most extensive consultation processes conducted in Northern Ireland.

Almost half the population of the province lives within the area affected by the BMAP proposals.

One of the most controversial aspects of the BMAP implementation has been its impact on the long-running Sprucefield/John Lewis issue.

High-end UK chain John Lewis has been trying to gain planning permission for a major store at Sprucefield for over a decade.

The Sprucefield development - which was to include the store and 19 other retail units - would have been John Lewis' first entry into the local market, bringing with it 1,500 jobs and more than £150m of investment .

Under the BMAP proposals, only retailers dealing with bulky goods would be able to get planning permission - which would exclude John Lewis.

In court yesterday counsel for Mrs Foster confirmed she was pressing ahead with her action.

The judge, Mr Justice Treacy, agreed to put the case back to January 23 for a possible hearing on whether to grant leave to seek a judicial review.

Asked whether that could turn into a long court session, counsel for Mrs Foster replied: "We say the issue is plainly arguable."

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