Mixed reaction to news of John Lewis Sprucefield development progress

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton MLA

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton MLA

John Lewis has acknowledged Friday’s High Court judgment in Belfast – lifting restrictions on future expansion at Sprucefield – but said it has not yet decided if it will come to Northern Ireland.

Attempts to secure the first John Lewis store in the Province were given a major boost with a new planning blueprint for greater Belfast.

A clause restricting future expansion of the Sprucefield shopping centre in Co Down to bulky goods only is to be removed from the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP).

A spokeswoman for the company said: “We will continue to monitor developments but we do not have any current plans to open a shop in the Province.”

In a joint statement, Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard and Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said they welcomed the ruling, and said the suggested remedy put forward jointly by their department had been accepted by Mr Justice Treacy.

Mr Hamilton said: “I welcome today’s decision which has endorsed the agreement reached between the departments and approved by the Northern Ireland Executive.

“It will provide certainty and clarity for councils, developers and investors. My number one priority is to bring more and better jobs to Northern Ireland. I believe the decision by the court today will further strengthen our message that Northern Ireland is a great place to invest and do business.”

Mr Hazzard said: “This will give certainty to local communities and to those who wish to invest in the north, reinforcing that we are a region open to and ready to do business.”

Ulster Unionist councillor Alex Redpath also welcomed the decision. He said: “The council will deliver the new area plan from 2019 but BMAP is very important for the next two years. Any applications for Sprucefield will come to the local council and we will view them on their merits with reference to the appropriate plan including the now amended BMAP.”

However, Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce president Gordon McElroy described the judgment as “bad for Northern Ireland” and said Belfast “must be at the centre and heart of all policies” in the Province.

Independent retailers’ representative Glyn Roberts said: “Our strong preference has always been for John Lewis to locate a store in a town or city centre, rather than at an out of town location”.