There are serious concerns that new planning legislation could put a permanent end to the long running plans to bring John Lewis to Sprucefield.
Speaking in the Assembly this week, the Environment Minister outlined proposed reforms to the planning system, which could make it harder for out of town developments to get the go ahead.
The retail policy adopts a “town centres first” approach and makes out of centre locations the least preferred option.
Mark H Durkan’s reforms involving distilling about 20 separate planning policies into a single Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS).
It will act as a framework for local councils which will take control of most planning powers in April 2015.
The councils will be expected to undertake a “town centre health check” every five years to inform their own retail and town centre strategies.
The minister told the Assembly the SPPS would “provide clarity and certainty for all users of the reformed planning system”.
The SPPS will now be the subject of 12-week public consultation and is expected to be published in final form by end of 2014.
Lagan Valley MLA Jonathan Craig has called on the Environment Minister to overturn the decision to restrict development at Sprucefield to the sale of ‘bulky goods’.
“Once again we see another SDLP Minister putting the needs of Belfast ahead of the needs of Northern Ireland PLC by what seems to be his unwillingness to reverse a previous decision by the past Minister that stipulate under B-Map that only bulky goods could be sold at Sprucefield,” said Mr Craig.
“Sprucefield, which is the only out-of-town regional shopping centre designated by the Regional Development Strategy, is the only show in town and the delivery of John Lewis and the major development on this site must be a priority for this Minister and for Northern Ireland,” he continued.
“Even at this late stage, I would call on the Minister to realise the damage that he and the previous Minister has done and reverse this policy and deliver John Lewis to Northern Ireland so that the real economic benefits and the hundreds of local job can finally be secured,” Mr Craig added.