Big thank you from

John Lewis inquiry set for `early 2013'

How the planned development would look

How the planned development would look

ANOTHER date has been set for the public inquiry into plans to build a John Lewis store and additional units at Sprucefield.

The much delayed inquiry which was opened and adjourned in June 2010, has now been re-scheduled for early 2013.

The Planning Appeals Commission confirmed this week that the Department of the Environment has asked it to proceed with the inquiry into the plans for the 500,000 sq ft development - a joint venture between the Australian property firm Westfield and local developer Snoddons.

The Commission says it 'will be in a position to re-open the inquiry early in 2013'.

"However, it wishes to avoid making arrangements only to have them put on hold due to arguments about, for example, the adequacy of the environmental statement" it says on its website.

"The Commission has decided to convene a further mid-inquiry meeting to clarify the status of previously submitted application and evidential documents, to deal with any outstanding procedural queries, to consider whether there are any remaining obstacles to the resumption of the inquiry and to discuss dates for re-opening."

That meeting will take place at 2.00pm on Tuesday, 11th September in the Commission's offices at Park House, 8791 Great Victoria Street, Belfast.

The PAC has asked anyone who is proposing to put forward procedural arguments 'in favour of further delaying the inquiry' to set them out in writing to reach the Commission by no later than 4.00pm on Friday, 24th August.

The Commission said: Any such comments should specifically identify the procedural issues and should not exceed 1,000 words. The comments will be copied to the applicants and the Department to enable them to respond at the meeting. This invitation relates to procedural issues only.

"There will be a full opportunity to present views on the merits of the proposed retail development when the inquiry re-opens."

The long and winding road...

June 2004 - Plans announced for Sprucefield development with John Lewis and 29 other stores. It would create 2,000 jobs, including around 700 in Ireland's first John Lewis outlet. Company sets a deadline of December for securing planning permission.

November 2004 - Belfast Chamber of Trade formally objects saying there would be 'almost as much floor space as we have in the city centre'.

November 2004 - Westfield Group, which also owns Castlecourt in Belfast, completes the purchase of Sprucefield Park from Stannifer.

November 2004 - John Lewis says a prompt" decision on the planning application critical to its plans.

June 2005 - Direct rule minister Lord Rooker gives planning permission claiming the decision is 'a no brainer'.

May 2006 - The High Court quashes Lord Rooker's decision. Mr Justice Girvan stresses he was not ruling on the merits of the application but the way the decision was reached.

March 2007 - New direct rule minister David Cairns again grants planning permission labelling it 'good news for Northern Ireland'

February 2008 - The decision is again challenged in the courts after it emerges senior officials in the Planning Service had recommended refusal. Westfield and their co-developer Snoddons withdrew the proposal.

August 2008 - A new planning application is lodged with a request by the developers for an immediate public inquiry. Number of additional units cut from 29 to 19.

February 2009 - Environment Minister Sammy Wilson announces a public inquiry into the re-drafted planning application.

October 2009 - Planning Appeals Commission shelves the inquiry days before it is due to begin because, it says, an environmental impact assessment was not filed in time by the developers.

December 2009 - New application lodged and June date set for public inquiry

June 2010 - Public inquiry postponed at the last moment after further legal challenge. It is claimed a proper assessment was not carded out on the consequences for badgers, bats and newts at the site.

November 2010 - Environment minister Edwin Poots relinquishes all involvement in the decision-making process surrounding the planning application and the department agrees to reconsider whether more information is required on the environmental impact of development at Sprucefield bringing the legal challenge by businesses opposed to the scheme to an end.

July 2012 - Planning Appeals Commission sets 'early 2013' for public inquiry

Ulster Star