Belfast Telegraph

John Lewis wrangle holding up plans

Up to 13 major planning applications in Northern Ireland face serious delays because of wrangling over the John Lewis store, the Environment Minister said.

Public inquiries into an extended runway at Belfast City Airport, retail developments in Newtownards, and a north/south electricity interconnector are among projects being held up by judicial reviews over the out-of-town shopping centre.

Edwin Poots criticised the House of Fraser, which is to seek a court review of the decision to extend Sprucefield citing environmental concerns.

"The courts need to be careful that they don't become the guard dogs for one commercial interest against another commercial interest and as a consequence against the public interest," he said.

He addressed a conference of retailers in Belfast at which House of Fraser chief executive John King was the keynote speaker.

Mr Poots said: "They have delayed this inquiry for a year and a half. As a consequence, all the other inquiries are sitting waiting to be held. If a large proposal comes in for Belfast City Council in the next few weeks which required a public inquiry, it would be four to five years before it was heard."

A Planning Appeal Commission hearing into the Sprucefield decision opens next Tuesday and the Department of the Environment will be arguing that the judicial review process should not hold up the appeal. The owners of Sprucefield have been trying to get approval for the store since 2004.

But traders from rival retail hubs Bow Street Mall and Central Craigavon Ltd launched proceedings against how environmental issues were dealt with.

The chief executive of House of Fraser made no public comment on the dispute.

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