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Mark H Durkan approval of Belfast planning blueprint unlawful, court told

By Alan Erwin

Published 28/05/2015

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan had no authority to approve a major new planning blueprint for Greater Belfast on his own, the High Court has heard.

A judge was told the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) was so controversial and affected so many departments - with implications for securing a John Lewis store here - that it required full Executive consent.

Counsel for one of Mr Durkan's ministerial colleagues claimed the SDLP minister was intransigent and only interested in securing a pre-determined outcome.

He is facing a legal challenge from the DUP's Arlene Foster over his decision to adopt the planning framework last September.

Mrs Foster, the former Enterprise Minister now in charge of the Department of Finance, claims her colleague in the power-sharing administration breached the ministerial code. Mr Durkan insists efforts were made to get the issue on the agenda at Executive meetings.

BMAP identifies zones for retail, residential and commercial development across the city and outlying areas such as Carrickfergus, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and north Down.

Among the most contentious aspects of the blueprint is retail zoning, which restricts future expansion at the Sprucefield shopping centre to bulky goods only.

That would stop a long-proposed John Lewis store from being built there.

David Scoffield QC, representing Mrs Foster, repeatedly argued that the planning framework was a cross-cutting, controversial matter which needed the agreement of the whole Executive.

"It didn't happen and the minister had no authority to act unilaterally," the barrister contended.

According to Mr Scoffield, "battle lines were well drawn" in the debate over allowing unrestricted retail development at Sprucefield.

Calling into question the extent to which Mr Durkan showed flexibility, the lawyer claimed: "He wasn't interested in reaching accommodation, he was only interested in securing approval for his own pre-determined outcome."

Mr Justice Treacy was told seven of the other 10 Stormont departments were concerned enough about BMAP to want to take part in a special Executive sub-group set up to deal with the issue.

But it was claimed that Mr Durkan was not prepared to change his mind.

The hearing continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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