The politicians are united, now it's time to make YOUR voice heard
by JULIE ANN SPENCE
Lisburn Councillors pictured in Bow Street calling on people of Lisburn to make their voice heard on the John Lewls subject. US3510-105A0 Picture By Aidan O'Reilly
LISBURN councillors who last week travelled to the City Hall to confront Belfast politicians over their efforts to prevent John Lewis coming to Sprucefield have now gone into the centre of their own city to invite local people to show their support for the project which would bring hundreds of jobs here.
The battle to bring the store to Lisburn has now been stepped up with the people of the city being invited to make their opinion heard before the long awaited public inquiry into the scheme starts on October 5.
All the parties on Lisburn City Council are supporting the call for the application to be given the go ahead and the public is being invited to sign a petition showing they feel the same.
There was fury last week when the Lord Mayor of Belfast hosted a function in the City Hall during which the Chief Executive of the House of Fraser, the anchor tenant in Victoria Square, called on John Lewis to go to Belfast instead of Lisburn.
Although there has been concern in Lisburn about the additional units planned for the development at Sprucefield, there is unanimous backing for bringing John Lewis here.
On Wednesday the Mayor, Alderman Paul Porter and Chairman of the Council's Corporate Services Committee, Councillor William Leathem, along with councillors of all parties and local MP Jeffrey Donaldson took to the streets to encourage the public to make their voice heard on the development.
The Mayor said: "With only a matter of weeks left before the Public Inquiry is scheduled to start, the Council would like to see the opinions of the people that matter on record.
"The Council has always supported the Sprucefield development and believe that the majority of people really want this to go ahead. We need to prove to all those objectors that the development is noth needed and wanted. On behalf of the Council I am urging everyone to sign the petition and show your support on this matter.
"Like many others, the Council, has been frustrated at attempts to delay the Public Inquiry. Back in June it was adjourned on its first day without any of the evidence being heard. I sincerely hope this Public Inquiry will go ahead as planned when everyone, including the objectors, will voice their opinion on the scheme. The public needs to be represented at this and have their views conveyed," he continued.
Councillor Leathem added: "To date the Council petition, which was launched 2008, has generated a total of nearly 12,000 signatures. The support for the development is clear but we need to send a strong message to all those who feel it would not be beneficial for it to go ahead. I hope that everyone will recognise the benefits that the new development will bring. The proposed new jobs and investment will go a long way towards boosting the local economy and minimising the effects of the economic recession that is currently being experienced."
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson also encouraged everyone to make their voice heard.
He said: "The campaign to bring John Lewis to Sprucefield has reached a critical juncture and it is vital now that elected representatives and the local community combine their efforts to press home the advantages for Lisburn and Northern Ireland in securing this vital investment.
It is now time for the voice of the people to be heard in this debate instead of the narrow self interest that has dominated the discussion so far."
Ulster Unionist Councillor Ivan Davis said that everyone was asking when will John Lewis come to Sprucefield?' He continued: "It is htgh time the people's voice was heard. I hope and pray that sooner or later John Lewis will arrive at Sprucefield for the benefit of the citizens of Lisburn and further afield."
Alliance Councillor Betty Campbell, who said that John Lewis was one of her favourite stores when she visits London, called on local people to show their support for the development.
"John Lewis would he a great asset for Lisburn and it would attract people from right across Northern Ireland," she said. "I would hope that the people of the area would show their support in whatever way they feel is appropriate."
SDLP Councillor and Deputy Mayor, Councillor Brian Heading, said the John Lewis development would bring vital jobs to the city.
"The SDLP support the development at Sprucefield," he continued. "I represent an area where there is high social deprivation and unemployment and this is an opportuntty to give those people employment and training. I would encourage everyone to show their support and sign the petition."
TUV Councillor, Alderman Cecil Calvert, added: "I fully support the John Lewis development, it would enhance the shopping experience for the people of Lisburn city and far beyond. A decision on thts applicatton should have been taken many months ago and I applaud John Lewis for their continued commitment to Lisburn."
Sinn Fein Councillor Paul Butler reiterated his support for the development and called on the public to back the campaign to bring the store to Sprucefteld.
"The reality is that in all of my meetings with representatives of John Lewis they have been adamant that they are only interested in bringing their store to Sprucefield,' said Mr Butler. "This development would 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 petitions will be available at Lagan Valley Island, The Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum and the Lagan Valley LeisurePlex, until Monday September 27. The petition will then be presented to the Public Inquiry which is scheduled to commence on Tuesday October 5. The petition is also available on the Council's website www.lisburncity.gov.uk
What do you think about the plan 1o bring John Lewis to Sprucefield? Are you in favour of the development? Let us know your thoughts by contacting the Ulster Star, 12A Bow Street, Lisburn BT28 1BN or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ENVIRONMENT Minister Edwin Poots has appealed to those opposing the John Lewis development at Sprucefield to let next month's public inquiry go ahead as planned.
"Last spring the then environment minister Sammy Wilson asked the Planning Appeals Commission to hold a public inquiry into the John Lewis application," said Mr Poots. "It was scheduled to be held in the autumn and has been held back by lawyers acting on behalf of opponents who had initially sought to have a public inquiry but some of whom now seem to be doing everything in their power to prevent it from happening.
"I would urge everyone involved to allow the public inquiry to proceed, to let everyone put their issues on the table and allow this issue to be resolved one way or another.
"This procrastination has been damaging for traders in Lisburn and is doing huge damage in terms of NI plc as investors are looking at this long running saga and feel they won't invest because they can't get a decision.
"Those holding back the public inquiry are doing immense damage to the credibility of Northern Ireland and to the population of Northern Ireland by depriving them of a planning decision which can attract economic investment and significant job opportunities."