Belfast Telegraph

Durkan urged to axe Sprucefield ban to pave way for John Lewis store

By Claire McNeilly

Jeffrey Donaldson has called on the Environment Minister to lift restrictions imposed on development at Sprucefield Park and pave the way for a John Lewis store.

His call follows a meeting with site owners INTU in London yesterday to discuss new plans for the high-end department store chain.

Last week the High Court ruled that Mark H Durkan's decision to approve the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) - a blueprint for the city's future - without the consent of the Executive was unlawful.

The plan identified zones for retail, residential and commercial developments across Belfast and outlying areas, including Lisburn.

But among the most contentious issues was a retail proposal restricting Sprucefield expansion to bulky goods only.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after discussions with the INTU development team, Mr Donaldson said urgent action was needed to facilitate a new planning application for John Lewis, which had previously been prevented by BMAP.

"The minister should remove the restrictions that he placed on development at Sprucefield to clear the way for agreement on BMAP," the Lagan Valley MP said.

"That would then allow a new planning application to be submitted by the developer.

"John Lewis have a continuing interest in Sprucefield and if planning permission is secured we would hope to be successful in persuading them to open a store there."

Mr Donaldson told how both John Lewis and INTU were adopting a "wait and see" approach to the outcome of the recent High Court ruling.

"We now need to get agreement between the various departments about what is going to happen in relation to BMAP," he added.

"There will have to either be a change in the policy in relation to Sprucefield and the removal of the current restrictions for development there or there is the potential the whole BMAP plan could fall - and that would have very serious consequences for planning across the whole of the Greater Belfast area, now that planning powers have now transferred to the new councils.

"I don't think it's in anyone's interest for the BMAP plan to fall by the wayside and therefore I think we need to see movement on Sprucefield."

Mr Donaldson said there was "a compelling need" for the minister to resolve the matter as soon as possible, preferably before the Assembly elections in May.

"There won't be a Department of the Environment after the Assembly elections, it'll be the new Department of Infrastructure," he added. "So the question is, will the minister resolve this issue now and clear it before the Assembly elections or will he simply leave it to a new minister?"

Belfast Telegraph