How the John Lewis development could look
LAGAN Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson is seeking an urgent meeting with Department for Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland after it was revealed that his department has engaged a barrister from London to speak on their behalf at the upcoming John Lewis public enquiry.
It has emerged that the Department of Social Development have engaged a barrister to discuss how the John Lewis development at Sprucefield could adversely affect the regeneration of Belfast City Centre.
Mr Donaldson said he was "disappointed" that the Planning Appeals Commission had asked the government to appear at the enquiry on behalf of Belfast and that he would be meeting with the Minister to discuss the matter.
I am very disappointed that DSD have been drawn into this issue by the Planning Appeals Commission," said Mr Donaldson.
"On matters such as this, where we are looking at a major investment for Northern Ireland, I do not believe it is appropriate for a government department to be seen in any way to takes sides.
"If we were to lose the John Lewis project, with the potential it has to create over a thousand new jobs and provide in the region of £100 million pounds of investment in our hard pressed economy, serious questions would have to be asked about the mixed messages being sent out from Northern Ireland."
Mr Donaldson continued: "I am seeking an urgent meeting with the DSD Minister to discuss the role the Belfast Regeneration section of his Department has in the public enquiry.
"It is vital that DSD clarifies their position on this issue as they are a Department which is supposed to provide a service for all of Northern Ireland and not just for Belfast."
Mr Donaldson also revealed that the First Minister, Peter Robinson, would be meeting with John Lewis to reassure them they would still be welcome at Sprucefield.
"I am arranging for the First Minister to meet with senior executives in London to reiterate our message that John Lewis will be welcome in Northern Ireland and at Sprucefield."
Lisburn Councillor Ronnie Crawford has also criticised the DSD for defending the interests of Belfast at the enquiry and he has called on the Minister to publicly support the John Lewis development at Sprucefield.
"It is not hard to see what line the DSD will be taking and I challenge Minister Nelson McCausland to come out now and state that he and his department support the 800 John Lewis jobs at Sprucefield," said Mr Crawford.
"Quite clearly every trick in the book is being employed to deny Lisburn jobs, rates income and investment.
"The time has come for a full public enquiry into the handling of the John Lewis case which surely, after nine years, must be the longest-running planning application in the history of the UK."
A spokesperson for the DSD said they were following 'standard process' by engaging legal counsel for the enquiry. "The Department has been asked by the Planning Appeals Commission to attend this public inquiry to respond to questions about regeneration issues in relation to Belfast , City Centre," she said.
"The Department is being advised by legal counsel on its preparation for attending the inquiry.
"This is the standard process followed by Departments in preparing for such an inquiry.
"It is for the Planning Appeals Commission to determine the terms of reference for the Department's attendance at the inquiry" she concluded.