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Northern Ireland shoppers pay cost of failure

By Donald C McFetridge

Published 01/06/2015

Waitrose has yet to open a store in Northern Ireland
Waitrose has yet to open a store in Northern Ireland

No matter where I go, I am constantly asked the following questions: (1) are we getting a John Lewis store in Northern Ireland; and (2) when is Waitrose coming?

The truth of the matter is that, as time marches on, it's looking less and less likely that we're going to get either of these two retailers.

It seems that those in power never learn from the lessons of the past, irrespective of what they say.

The latest development in the John Lewis debacle has highlighted the fact that a minister allegedly broke the ministerial code.

In my opinion, this is a case of history repeating itself. In fact, it reminds me of the lengthy public inquiry and the judicial review process relating to the D5/Tillysburn (Belfast Harbour Estate) site when Sainsburys initially announced plans to develop a store there.

The process took years and, by the time full planning permission was eventually granted, Sainsburys had all but lost interest in the site.

This was principally because, in the meantime, Tesco had opened their 24-hour store across the road, at Knocknagoney, making the D5 site much less attractive than it had originally seemed.

It strikes me that something similar could very well happen in respect of the John Lewis proposal, which has, at this stage, been withdrawn, and begs the question: who will upstage them and get here first while Government officials fiddle with out-of-date and often irrelevant planning policy?

I often wonder if NI plc is really open for business?

Is it any wonder that Waitrose (and many other interested and interesting retailers) are taking their time over committing to the region?

In the interim, the real disgrace is that Northern Ireland consumers are not afforded the breadth and depth of choice which a variety of retailers provide for shoppers in other geographic regions across the UK.

Here, we are still at least 15 years behind the rest of the country in respect of the presence of truly high-end retailers.

At the end of the day, a minister may (or may not) have "broken the code", but I think even Alan Turing would have difficulty sorting out this complex situation.

It's certainly an enigma to me.

Donald C McFetridge is a retail analyst at the Ulster University Business School

Belfast Telegraph

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