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Minister hits out after new legal moves again threaten public inquiry

John LewisENVIRONMENT Minister Edwin Poots is to meet the boss of House of Fraser to urge his company to let the public inquiry into the John Lewis development at Sprucefield go ahead after yet another legal application was lodged this week which threatens the start of the inquiry next week.

Mr Poots blasted opponents of the scheme, who he said had always called for a public inquiry, for now repeatedly going to the courts to try and halt it.

His harsh criticism comes after groups including House of Fraser went back to court again this week seeking leave for a judicial review which, if granted, could again delay the public inquiry, which is scheduled to commence on Tuesday. The inquiry was also postponed in June.

"In my opinion the grounds for seeking a judicial review are wholly tenuous and should not be sustained," said Mr Poots. "Most people will see that this is merely a delaying tactic.

"It is very clear in my mind and the minds of the senior people in the Planning Service that the public inquiry should go ahead. Everyone asked for a public inquiry, including the opponents. The go ahead for a public inquiry was given a year and a half ago but those opposing it have engaged in tactics which stop the public inquiry being heard.

"I am very clearly of the opinion that they are clogging up the entire planning process for commercial interests."

Mr Poots went on to confirm that he would be meeting the boss of House of Fraser this week and would be urging him to halt his opposition to the public inquiry.

" I will be meeting with John King from House of Fraser and I will indicate to him I believe as a company they should disengage themselves from it and allow the public inquiry to be heard and allow the decision making process to continue."

He continued: "I trust our legal system would recognise the motive here is not environmental, the motive is purely commercial. "It isn't the job of the courts to act as a guard dog for one commercial interest."

Local politicians have also urged the Planning Appeals Commission to continue with the public inquiry next week, despite the latest legal moves which centre around an enviornmental statement.

MLA Paul Givan has called on those behind the legal moves to stop their action and allow everyone to put their case forward through the public inquiry.

"I would appeal to the Planning Appeals Commission to go ahead with the public inquiry and not be put off by these delaying tactics," said Mr Givan. "Given that the public inquiry was postponed in June and to postpone it again would be perverse.

"There is nothing in this legal case that could or should prevent the public inquiry from taking place."

MLA Paul Butler also warned that John Lewis's plans could be in danger because of the opposition. "Those opposed to John Lewis locating at Sprucefield should seriously consider the consequences of their actions," said Mr Butler. "John Lewis are, I believe, at the point of losing patience with both our planning and legal systems and the reality is they may well decide to cut their losses and focus their attention of developing a store in the south of Ireland. John Lewis's development plans will bring significant benefits to the north of Ireland. Over 2,000 job opportunities, both in construction and retail services would be made available through this development going ahead. In the present economic climate this would be a welcome boost to the economy especially the construction industry."

The Chairman of the Council's Planning Committee, Councillor Ronnie Crawford, also critcised the opponents for attempts to delay the public inquiry which he said were designed 'to delay and frustrate this huge investment in Northern Ireland,'.

"It seems that the objectors are prepared to spend significant sums in legal fees to keep delaying work on the store. It is pure commercial protectionism and a fear of the public hearing where all the objections can be considered.

"The public inquiry should proceed and the environmental issues with which the objectors claim to be so important can be' adjudicated on later," he concluded.

Store campaign boosted by Facebook site

LAGAN Valley MLA Paul Givan has launched a Facenook site for people to support the campaign for John Lewis.

Almost 500 people have already signed up backing the campaign.

"The Internet provides new opportunities to put pressure on decision makers and highlight the public support that exists for bringing John Lewis to Lisburn," said Mr Givan. "Over the past number of weeks as the public have been anticipating the public inquiry starting a ground swell of support has been growing behind the campaign. I will use this site to keep people informed as this application is progressed through the planning system."

Lisburn Mayor Paul Porter added: "I commend Mr Givan for taking this initiative. His efforts have helped to generate more signatures on the Council's online petition that will be presented to the Planning Appeals Commission.

"Right across the community people are coming forward to give their support to John Lewis and we will ensure their voice is heard by the PAC."

Council to `stand firm' on John Lewis

Cllr Ronnie Crawford, Albert Flemming, Mayor Paul Porter and CIlr William Leathem with petitions in support of the John Lewis store coming to Lisburn. US381O-562cd

Cllr Ronnie Crawford, Albert Flemming, Mayor Paul Porter and CIlr William Leathem with petitions in support of the John Lewis store coming to Lisburn. US381O-562cd

LISBURN Councillors have vowed to continue their fight to bring John Lewis to the city, by urging councillors to continue to put pressure on their Belfast colleagues.

The issue was raised at Tuesday's Monthly council meeting when Councillor Ronnie Crawford informed members that John King, the head of House of Fraser, who was present at the controversial meeting at which Lisburn councillors brought their protest to Belfast, will be attending a conference in the Stormont Hotel; an event four Lisburn councillors will be attending.

Speaking on the issue, Councillor Paul Butler warned that John Lewis could walk away from the project should the argument rage on much longer.

Mr Butler said: "The danger now is that there is another legal challenge. If this latest legal challenge holds up the inquiry, John Lewis could walk away; and nobody could blame them. They have had to put up with political challenges, legal challenges for six years."

Alderman Ivan Davis, who attended the protest by Lisburn at Belfast City Hall, added: "One thing I was pleased with was that at long last this council was showing a bit of bite. It should have been done so a long time ago and we should do it more often. We are continually pressing colleagues in Belfast to catch themselves on; John Lewis don't want to go to Belfast and we're not going to tolerate this any longer.

"We need to stand up at every opportunity for Lisburn. What's coming down the line in October unless we fight for Lisburn? We've already been done out of the Maze stadium. John Lewis will get so fed up they'll walk away; we can't lose John Lewis."

Councillor Jonathan Craig continued: "What John Lewis is proposing here is for all of Northern Ireland, and beyond that for Ireland. The other part of the application is for an All-Ireland distribution site, this is not only affecting Lisburn, it is detrimental to the entire economy of all Northern Ireland." The Mayor, Alderman Paul Porter, who led the fight for Lisburn in Belfast in August, stated: "We must stand firm and pressure our colleagues in Belfast."

Grass roots support swells for Sprucefield

THOUSANDS of local people and visitors have shown their support for the Sprucefield plans which would bring a John Lewis Department store to Northern Ireland.

People from across the City have put pen to paper, through the Lisburn City Council's petition, calling for planning approval to be granted for this development. Accepting more petition signatures the Mayor, Alderman Paul Porter said that the depth of feeling that people were expressing was crystal clear.

"People from across Northern Ireland have lent strong backing to this petition in support of the development at Sprucefield, which has the potential to create over 2,000 jobs and an estimated £150 million in inward investment.

"I would like to thank all those people who have taken the time to sign this petition. The Council will continue to make sure your voice is heard when the petition is presented to the Planning Service during the coming week," said the Mayor.

Ulster Star