by NEIL GREENLEES
Mervyn Snoddon of Snoddon's, MLA
Edwin Poots, Steven Hassel of Westfield and Brian
Snoddon of Snoddon's pictured at Westfield's Public
Information day at Lisburn Museum. US3508-125A0
DEVELOPERS Westfield say their proposed John
Lewis complex could be up and running by summer 2011 if it
receives the same treatment from planners as the IKEA store at
Westfield, who staged a public exhibition of
their plans at Lisburn Museum earlier this week, have called for
a speedy full public inquiry into the project which they say
will create around 2000 new jobs.
They told last week's launch of the revised
proposals work started on the IKEA outlet eight months after the
Swedish firm first sought permission to proceed.
The same timescale, they said, would allow
work to begin at Sprucefield around May with completion two
The developers made it clear they believed
their proposed development would plug a gap in the Northern
Ireland market through which a 'fair amount of retail leakage
was occurring' to both the Republic and the rest of the UK.
This gap, they said, was created by the
provinces lack of a 'full line' department store and would be
filled by the construction of a John Lewis.
They also made it clear they felt objectors
to the scheme were acting out of short sighted selfish
The company's Development Director Steven
Hassel said the firm was committed to delivering the Sprucefield
development and the "substantial economic and social benefits it
would bring to Northern Ireland.
"This project has been subject to serious
delay. It is a scheme of regional significance in Northern
Ireland and we believe a public enquiry should be held
as soon as possible so the community and
economy can benefit from the enhanced retail offer provided by
the scheme and the 2000 jobs that will be created," he
Mr. Hassel said the involvement of John Lewis
showed huge confidence in the future of shopping in Northern
"Consumers should be encouraged we continue
to receive considerable interest from other leading retailers
keen to open at Sprucefield," he added.
The Director of Snoddons Construction, the
firm responsible for constructing the complex if it receives the
green light, said they were looking forward to taking the scheme
Mr. Sam Harris said the revised proposals
were 'a reflection of the feedback received in the previous
application' and they had worked hard along with Westfield to
"reflect the requirements of the community.
"The crucial aspect now is to progress this
application as quickly as possible via a public inquiry which
will ensure the benefits it will bring not only to Lisburn but
to Northern Ireland as a whole in terms of retail offer and
employment can be realised as soon as possible," he added.
Sprucefield or nowhere insists company boss
Lewis, the firm which has 'never knowingly undersold' certainly
didn't undersell itself as the wraps were taken off developer
Westfield's revised proposals to locate one of its stores at
The number of adjoining retail units in the
plans may have been reduced; the layout of the John Lewis store
may also have changed but the message from its Director of
Retail Design and Development Gareth Thomas remained the same -
John Lewis offers a quality of retail experience not currently
available in Northern Ireland and Sprucefield is the only
location in Northern Ireland suitable for one of its stores. No
John Lewis store at Sprucefield means no John Lewis store in
Mr. Thomas said his company's stores were
'very big in scale' and all its research showed Sprucefield was
the best location in the province for its unique operating
He said this would place the store within one
hour's drive of much of the province's population of 1.7 million
people as well as between 200,000 and 250,000 people in the
north of the Republic.
"If we cannot open at Sprucefield we will not
be coming to Northern Ireland. Belfast does not provide an
alternative to us because of our operating model," he added.
Mr. Thomas also said his company's stock of
more than 350,000 lines including everything from fitted
kitchens to sewing needles meant it offered a much greater
choice of homeware, giftware, electrical items and fashion
brands than any other retailer.
On the employment front, he said the proposed
store would create more than 700 jobs with each employee
becoming a John Lewis partner.
In 2008, he added, the company divided �181
million in bonus to its 69,000 partners.
The new plans have involved a change of
layout for the proposed John Lewis store. This was originally to
be located on two floors with a total retail space of 240,000
square feet. The square footage will remain the same but the
plans now involve a store covering three and a half floors.
Mr. Thomas made it clear his company
preferred this layout which he said had been agreed following a
period of consultation with Westfield.
John Lewis currently operates 26 department
stores across the UK. It also owns 191 Waitrose supermarkets and
'Greenbee' a new direct services company.