Belfast Telegraph

Court had no right to make judgement on Sprucefield, hearing told

By Alan Erwin

The High Court was wrongly drawn into making an order that boosted attempts to secure the first John Lewis store in Northern Ireland, senior judges have heard.

Lawyers for Belfast City Council claimed judicial "rubber-stamping" of a deal between two Stormont departments on a major new planning blueprint should be quashed.

They are appealing the outcome of a legal action that resulted in the lifting of a restriction on future expansion at Sprucefield retail park in Co Down to bulky goods only.

In November last year a judge declared that the rest of the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) could be implemented.

It followed an earlier ruling that former SDLP Environment Minister Mark H Durkan acted unilaterally and unlawfully in authorising BMAP without consent from Executive colleagues.

Mr Durkan's approval of the planning framework adopted in 2014 had been challenged by Arlene Foster, the DUP Enterprise Minister at the time. But consent was later reached by new departments on a way forward.

Simon Hamilton, the DUP Economy Minister before power-sharing collapsed, and Sinn Fein Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard agreed on a plan to have BMAP adopted without the bulky goods restriction.

But in a further twist, Belfast City Council is now challenging the resolution reached.

Stewart Beattie QC argued in the Court of Appeal yesterday that it was constitutionally wrong to have a judge make the order amending BMAP.

Only Stormont should deal with changes to the planning policy, he contended.

He also claimed it could set a precedent for other local authorities to mount legal challenges over planning decisions.

Tony McGleenan QC, who represented Mr Durkan in the original case, contended that interfering with the order would "unwind" agreement reached between the departments.

Reserving judgment on the appeal, Lord Justice Weatherup pledged to give a decision as soon as possible.

Belfast Telegraph


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