Renewed efforts to encourage retail chain John Lewis to open a store at Sprucefield will be made in the coming weeks and months.
That was the pledge made this week by Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who is keen to see the upmarket department store open its first Northern Ireland outlet in the Lisburn area.
A High Court ruling in November last year which removed the ‘bulky goods only’ restriction from the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) raised hopes of John Lewis finally coming to Lisburn. However, the company said it has no immediate plans to open a store in Northern Ireland.
Despite the retail firm’s official line, Mr Donaldson believes the prospect of it setting up shop at Sprucefield is still very much a reality.
“I have been meeting with the owners of Sprucefield Park, a company called Intu, and they have indicated that they hope to submit a new planning application later this year for a major retail unit at Sprucefield and we hope that John Lewis will be the retailer that moves into that unit,” he said.
While Belfast City Council has stepped up its efforts to attract the high-end retailer to the city centre - a move that has caused anger and frustration among Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council representatives - Mr Donaldson believes Sprucefield is “the only viable option” for John Lewis.
And in a bid to reaffirm the case for Sprucefield Park, the DUP man is hoping to arrange a meeting with the new managing director of John Lewis, Paula Nickolds, in the near future.
“I am planning to invite the new chief executive of John Lewis to Northern Ireland. She has been appointed recently to that post and I think it would be good if she could come to Northern Ireland and see for herself the great opportunity that there is at Sprucefield,” Mr Donaldson said.
“It’s a fantastic location. Within an hour of Sprucefield you have something like two million people living in that area on the M1/A1 corridor so it is a great opportunity and I hope that if the chief executive of John Lewis comes to Northern Ireland she will be able to see that opportunity for herself.”
Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council is also continuing to make efforts to entice John Lewis to open a store at Sprucefield.
The local authority recently wrote to the retail firm reiterating its support for plans to bring it to Sprucefield, and inviting representatives of the company to meet with the council in a bid to progress the issue.