by NEIL GREENLEES
LISBURN City Council is giving people across Northern Ireland
the chance to demonstrate their support for the proposed John
Lewis complex at Sprucefield.
The Mayor Councillor Ronnie Crawford last
week joined with the Chairmen of the Corporate Services and
Planning Committees Councillors Paul Givan and Bill Gardiner
Watson to launch an online petition calling for the development
They hope this will be signed by thousands of
shoppers who would like to see a John Lewis store open in the
province before it is presented to the Northern Ireland
Environment Minister Sammy Wilson.
Mr. Givan warned if the application is
rejected the project will be diverted to a location outside
Dublin: This would mean a loss of a �200 million development and
potentially 2000 jobs, which Northern Ireland, in the current
economic climate, cannot afford," he added.
Mr. Crawford, emphasised that this was not
just a debate for the people of Lisburn.
He said people must "move away from the
notion the planning application was a local issue for Lisburn.
"It isn't. This is about providing choice, jobs and investment
for all the people of Northern Ireland, especially at this time
of economic downturn," he continued.
"Instead of turning such investment down we
should be embracing it with open arms and I have no doubt that
the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland would rather see
John Lewis represented in the province than not at all."
Mr. Watson said Northern Ireland had always
been overlooked "due to its troubled past.
"The investment by companies outside of
Northern Ireland confirms that we have come out the other side
and are experiencing a brighter future," he added.
The petition will be available on the
www.lisburncity.gov.uk. Petitions will also be available to
sign at council facilities throughout the city.
Meanwhile the council has written to both
First Minister Peter Robinson and Minister for the Environment
Sammy Wilson urging the Department treat the John Lewis planning
application as a priority and that a Public Inquiry gets
underway as a matter of urgency. Speaking about the process,
Councillor Bill Gardiner-Watson, Planning Committee Chairman,
said the delays with the previous applications had been wholly
"I would hope this application can now be
processed as quickly as possible, certainly as quickly as other
recent retail applications in the Belfast area and we are
calling for The Planning Appeals Commission' to be adequately
resourced in order that this application is dealt with as a
priority given its economic and employment benefit for all of
Northern Ireland," he added.
Development would pose 'a
major challenge to existing businesses'
Mayor Alderman Edwin Poots has conceded the opening of the
proposed John Lewis development at Sprucefield would pose 'a
major challenge to existing businesses'.
However, he said he was confident many of
them would 'rise to this challenge' and 'benefit from the
additional footfall generated as a consequence of one of the
biggest brands in British retailing' opening its only shop in
Northern Ireland on the outskirts of Lisburn. Speaking at the
launch of last week's exhibition of plans for the complex at the
Irish Linen Centre Mr. Poots also said the additional rates
revenue raised from the development would help fund work to put
Lisburn on a par with 'the finest compact cities in Europe'. He
said he believed the additional rates estimated at around
�500,000 per year should be invested in the city centre and its
links with Sprucefield. "It is essential that we work towards a
situation for all of Lisburn. The public want
to see Sprucefield develop but they do not want Lisburn to
become a ghost town," he continued. "I believe that we can not
only deliver on both issues, we can use this as an opportunity
to deliver an attractive, vibrant and exciting Lisburn well
capable of attracting the visitors to Sprucefield that extra
mile into a reinvigorated forward looking city centre."
Mr: Poots also said the proposed investment
in a period of economic downturn was to be "warmly welcomed.
Given the difficult trading conditions which are particularly
difficult in the construction industry, �150 million of
investment with a potential further �50 million in fitting out
is the type of boost the industry needs," he continued.
"The 1,500 jobs half of which would be in the
John Lewis store will also be a major boost to the local
Developers to discuss transport links with
THE developers behind the proposed John Lewis
development have pledged to hold detailed discussions with Roads
Service about the need for good transport links between
Sprucefield and the city centre.
A spokesperson for Westfield said it was 'too
early' to look at precise details but added they were 'very
aware' of how important the council and the local community felt
this to be.
His comments came as it emerged Westfield is
one of a number of objectors to the construction of four retail
warehouse units and associated site works on the former David
Prentice site at Sprucefield.
Other objectors are Greens Food Fare of Bow
Street; Smithfield Centre Ltd., of Shore Road, Holywood; Marks
and Spencer; Smyth Patterson Ltd of Market Square and
Sprucefield Centre Ltd.
The Planning Appeals Commission has informed
the objectors the matter will be heard by means of informal
This will take place on Thursday November 13
at 10.30am in the Hearing Room, Park House on Belfast's Great
The objectors have been asked to supply information about
their intentions in relation to participation at the hearing by