Lisburn City Council are calling on the main political party leaders in Northern Ireland to declare their stance on the John Lewis development at Sprucefield.
At a recent meeting of the Council’s Planning Committee, Councillor Ronnie Crawford said it was paramount that all parties made public their view on the proposed development, which came to a standstill after successive SDLP Environment Ministers declared future development at Sprucefield should be restricted to “bulky goods” and that Belfast should be given first refusal on major retail development.
“In his New Year’s message, our MP expressed hope that there would be progress on John Lewis in 2014,” said Mr Crawford. “I would like to see the John Lewis issue kept to the fore. I propose we write to each of the party leaders and ask them if they support the development of a John Lewis store at Sprucefield.
“Secondly, we should ask them, if they do support the development, how do they propose to get around all these obstacles and objections from Ministers and other retailers?”
Mr Crawford’s proposal was seconded Alderman William Leathem, who added: “It will be interesting to see what the SDLP leader has to say.”
The Chairman of the Planning Committee said this was a major issue for people in Lisburn. “The economic benefit it would bring in terms of job creation and visitor attraction would eclipse any difficulty we encounter in our efforts. It seems to me the idea that Belfast has some kind of monopoly on such enterprises over other locations is seriously ill conceived.”
Councillor James Tinsley supported the proposal, saying: “We are all singing from the same hymn sheet. We need to write to the party leaders asking them to clarify their position.”
Deputy Mayor, Councillor Andrew Ewing, stressed the need to secure the economic benefits of the development. “This development would create employment right across the community,” said Mr Ewing. “Those opposing this are playing with peoples’ jobs during these tough economic times. It’s disgraceful.”
Alderman Paul Porter said it was essential the John Lewis development received cross party support: “It is up to us to stand united and send a united voice out there with a clear message that when it comes to business, both on the outskirts and in the city centre, we are united.”
SDLP Councillor Brian Heading was challenged to declare his support for the John Lewis development despite the views of the SDLP Environment Minister that John Lewis should be located in Belfast. “If anyone thinks I am going to oppose 1,500 jobs coming to any part of Lisburn, they don’t know me very well,” said Mr Heading. “I am in favour of economic development but I cannot, without having the full facts, say that the Environment Minister made a wrong decision. If he has then that should have been challenged by now. I am for John Lewis in Lisburn,” he added.
Concluding the debate, Councillor Crawford said: “I don’t want this to be a divisive debate. Commercial interests have held up this application and I want clarity on the way forward. At the minute I can’t see how this is going to get through the Executive. It is coming up to an election and the Leaders will all be in Lisburn looking for votes.”