Why say yes to Strabane and not John Lewis?

John Lewis
John Lewis

A Lisburn Councillor has criticised the Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan MLA, for alleged discrepencies in how planning applications are handled.

Councillor Alexander Redpath hit out at the Minister for approving a large out of town development in Strabane when his predecessor Alex Attwood was instrumental in blocking the John Lewis planning application at Sprucefield.

Last week, the Environment Minister granted planning approval for a mixed use development in Strabane.

The development includes an employment park, a learning campus; a 90 bed hotel, a retail foodstore, a garden centre, petrol filling station, a children’s play area, a sports and wellbeing centre, a river wildlife centre and environmental and access infrastructure.

Granting planning approval, Mr Durkan said: “I have considered this application carefully as I am aware of the fundamental planning and policy issues concerning this development.

“However, I also recognise the potential benefits of the project. I acknowledge that overall there is strong local support for the project and the need for new investment, job creation and the potential for this development to act as a catalyst.

“I am also aware of the concerns of some local town centre traders. However, I believe that any potential negative impact associated within this development will be offset in the long term by growth in the local economy, the creation of jobs and greater wealth and visitor spend.”

Criticising the Minister’s stance, Councillor Redpath said: “I’m sure the Minister had his reasons for giving this development the go-ahead. However I cannot help but fell that double standards are being applied.

“How can the Minister support a large out of town development in Strabane and not in Lisburn?

“We are repeatedly told that the DoE is pursuing a policy of town centres first but now we are being told that Strabane can have and Lisburn can’t.

“If the Minister is prepared to pass large out of town developments then I would urge him to change his predecessor’s stance on John Lewis.

“John Lewis made it clear when they withdrew their application that they did so out of frustration with our antiquated and ineffective planning system.

“I am sure if they had an indication that these matters would be viewed differently they may resubmit an application.”