Judicial review over Sprucefield decision

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Finance Minister Arlene Foster has launched a judicial review into a decision by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan to amend the Belfast Metropolitan Plan and effectively end the prospect of John Lewis coming to Sprucefield.

Belfast High Court has heard that Mr Durkan’s action was implemented “without authority”.

In January 2012, then Environment Minister Alex Attwood restricted retail at Sprucefield to the sale of ‘bulky goods’. In October 2013, Mr Durkan became Environment Minister and allegedly produced a memo asking the executive to “note” that BMAP had passed all statutory requirements and that he intended to adopt it. However, Mrs Foster said due to the importance of the plan, the decision had to be taken by the Executive.

David Schofield QC told Belfast High Court that the language of the memo showed that the minister was “reluctant to seek agreement for the substance of the plan”.

The QC said that following delivery of the memo, the attorney general wrote to Mr Attwood on the issue of executive approval.

Mr Durkan allegedly then produced a new version of the memo this time seeking agreement from his executive colleagues.

DUP ministers Simon Hamilton and Edwin Poots wrote to Mr Durkan expressing their opposition to the Sprucefield element of BMAP.

In March 2014, Mr Durkan allegedly produced a third version of his memo that said he could not make ad hoc adjustments to BMAP.

Mr Schofield said this was part of a pattern of intransigence which showed Mr Durkan was “utterly unwilling to change the plan to address other minister’s concerns”.

He added that under Stormont’s ministerial code such a controversial matter could only be decided by the executive as a whole.

The hearing continues.