A ruling that the Environment Minister did not have the power to approve plans for the development of greater Belfast could now “pave the way” for a John Lewis store to the south of the city, accoring to one MLA.
A High Court judge said that Environment Minister Mark H Durkan acted unlawfully in authorising the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) without securing consent from his fellow ministers.
His verdict came in a challenge to the SDLP minister’s decision brought by former DUP Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster.
The planning framework, adopted in September 2014, sets out a blueprint for the development of the Belfast area.
BMAP identifies zones for residential and commercial development stretching from the city into Carrickfergus, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and north Down.
Among the most contentious aspects of the blueprint is a retail zoning which restricts future expansion at the Sprucefield shopping centre to bulky goods only.
That would stop a long-proposed John Lewis store from being built there.
Mr Justice Treacy backed claims that, because the plan’s significance stretched across departmental responsibilities, it needed approval from the wider Stormont cabinet.
He said: “In the present case, the minister having failed to achieve any agreement at the Executive sub-group, acted unilaterally and unlawfully by authorising and directing the Department to adopt the BMAP without informing the Executive until after the event and despite objections having been raised by other ministers.”
A decision on what remedy to grant in the case will be taken at a later date.
Lagan Valley DUP MLA Paul Givan said: “It is deeply regrettable that this issue had to come before the courts, not because it highlights the failure of the DoE minister, but because of the time it has taken and the lost opportunity for development at Sprucefield during that delay.
“There is now an opportunity to finally move forward again and this hopefully can pave the way for a new application to be submitted for John Lewis. My colleague Jeffrey Donaldson MP is meeting the development team in London next week to discuss how progress can be made.”