John Lewis application for Lisburn withdrawn

John Lewis
John Lewis

Developers have abandoned plans to build a new £150 million shopping centre in Northern Ireland.

It follows a decision to restrict the scale of the proposed project near Lisburn, Co Antrim, which involved the John Lewis retail outlet as the anchor tenant.

Nine years after the initial application was lodged, the multi-national which has 40 stores in Britain confirmed they were pulling out because of uncertainty over planning policy.

Earlier this month the Northern Ireland Environment Minister Alex Attwood announced that development would have to be limited to stores dealing in “bulky goods” - a decision which infuriated Peter Robinson, the First Minister in the power sharing executive at Stormont.

The planned development at Sprucefield close to the M1 motorway was expected to be one and a half times the size of the Castle Court shopping centre in Belfast.

Objectors claimed the scale of the project would have a devastating impact on town centres. Some wanted it to go to Belfast, but those backing the proposal insisted it would bring jobs, especially at a time when business chiefs believe there is little immediate hope of major investment in Northern Ireland`s struggling economy.

A planning application for the 500,000 sq ft development was first made in 2004. It involved a joint venture between the Australian property firm of Westfield and a local developer, Snoddons.

John Lewis said their department store and 19 new shops could have meant up to 1,500 retail jobs.

A statement said: “Over the last nine years John Lewis has clearly and consistently stated that, having reviewed all available options, Sprucefield is the only suitable location to develop a new full line department store in Northern Ireland.”

The company said the developers, Sprucefield Centre Ltd, and themselves would review their position once the Executive had considered the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan and that there was clarity on the role of Sprucefield as a regional shopping centre.

The statement added: “John Lewis has reiterated its continued interest in opening a new department store at Sprucefield.”

Mr Robinson said Mr Attwood’s decision cost an estimated £150m of investment and more than 1,500 jobs.

He added: “At a time of such economic challenges this is investment that Northern Ireland can ill afford to lose. It should be the responsibility of ministers to encourage investment and not to prevent it.”

Mr Attwood said he wanted retailers to come to Northern Ireland but he had to acknowledge the impact of retail proposals on Belfast and on other towns in the Greater Belfast area.

He said: “The responsibility is to protect existing retail and its thousands of jobs as other retail opportunities emerge.”

The Department of the Environment (DOE) and planning was very much about encouraging investment and helping to create jobs, he said, and the evidence of that was clear and convincing.

A planning inquiry into the Sprucefield application was due to assess all relevant information, including impact on other retail centres, economic benefits, environmental impact and a range of other matters.

Mr Attwood added: “It is disappointing that the applicant had chosen this course just hours before the deadline for submissions to the inquiry was to close, when in April all the information could have been considered by the inquiry. That said, I will work with agents, developers, retailers and communities to continue building the role and authority of DOE as an environment and economic ministry.”