Belfast Telegraph

Lack of Stormont agreement has proved very costly

By Chris Kilpatrick

It is a development blueprint aimed at boosting Belfast city and the surrounding areas – but wrangles over the plan have already proved hugely damaging.

Launched in November 2004, the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan aims to provide a planning framework for housing, employment, environment and transport.

But lack of agreement over it at the top of Government here led to one high-profile casualty.

In February of last year, high-end department store chain John Lewis effectively pulled out of a plan to build a superstore and Irish distribution hub at Sprucefield near Lisburn.

The then Environment Minister Alex Attwood had said the development would have to be limited to stores dealing in "bulky goods".

It was a decision that infuriated First Minister Peter Robinson.

Mr Attwood had hoped to instead attract John Lewis to set up shop in the Royal Exchange development in a bid to boost Belfast city centre.

His decisions were based on a reading of the BMAP.

But Mr Robinson said at the time that it was not Mr Attwood's decision to take.

"The issue of retail policy is a matter for the whole of the Executive to take a decision on, and not just for one minister," he said.

The store stressed that it was not completely closing the door on the huge investment.

"With the deadline looming to submit evidence to the Planning Appeals Commission, The Sprucefield Centre Limited and John Lewis have been forced to accept that the uncertainty over BMAP planning policy means they cannot proceed to inquiry," the developers said last year.

However, they added that they would review their position after the Executive had considered the BMAP policy.

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