Ulster Unionist Councillor Alexander Redpath said he was deeply concerned about the impact a new planning policy he dubbed as ‘Belfast First’ will have on the retail sector.
He criticised the document published by the Department of the Environment showing a new Strategic Planning Policy Statement which consolidates 20 existing Planning Policy Statements into a single document.
Councillor Redpath said that he feels the policy will have dire consequences for Lisburn.
“It is shameful that this policy expressly sets out protectionism for Belfast at Lisburn’s expense,” he claimed.
“This policy will seek to force major retail developments into Belfast.
“This will hurt Lisburn first and foremost and I believe this forms part of a concerted campaign by Mark Durkan and his predecessor Alex Atwood to stop John Lewis ever developing at Sprucefield.”
He continued, “Thankfully since the new super councils were formed locally elected representatives have gained significant new planning powers and we will have a greatly increased role in shaping how planning policy impacts on our local area.
“However it is incredibly disappointing that the Minister for the Environment continues to use that power that remains to him to hurt Lisburn and protect the SDLPs electoral base in Belfast.
“Mark H Durkan during his tenure as Environment Minister has approved major out of town developments in Newry, Strabane and Londonderry. Yet he continues to deny Lisburn vital economic opportunities.
“I leave the public to make their own minds up as to what distinguishes these areas and why some are treated in preference to others.”
The new Strategic Planning Policy Statement makes the following statement about retail in Belfast: “In particular spatial framework guidance (SPG 3) identifies the need to enhance the distinctive role of Belfast City Centre as the primary retail location in Northern Ireland.”
Londonderry is also mentioned for special treatment: “The RDS also highlights the need to strengthen and secure the role of Derry/Londonderry as the principal city for the North West.”
In response Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: “Far from damaging Lisburn’s retail sector this strategic policy context and its key features can help facilitate a successful, sustainable and attractive Lisburn for current and future generations.
“The SPPS promotes established town centres as the appropriate first choice locations of retailing and other complementary functions, consistent with the Regional Development Strategy 2035.
“I believe this is the right approach to ensure that the planning system supports and sustains vibrant town centres across the North.
“This policy approach has been informed by work undertaken by expert retail consultants and extensive engagement with stakeholders.
“It was strongly supported through the public consultation on the draft SPPS, and the Executive committee.
“Preference will be given to town centre sites, then edge-of-centre before considering out-of-centre sites.
“However, this does not mean a moratorium on all out-of-town retail development where it can provide appropriate complementary retail offer.
“Mr Redpath is correct to recognise the positive role new councils have in guiding appropriate developments in the right places and shaping the future development of their areas.
“The local development plan is key to addressing specific issues in the Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, including retail issues.
“The SPPS provides considerable flexibilities to enable the Council to bring forward detailed planning policy in their plan that appropriately responds to prevailing local circumstances.
“The statements in the SPPS regarding the role of Belfast and Derry are reproduced from DRD’s Regional Development Strategy 2035 – the spatial strategy of the Executive.”