Public inquiry on John Lewis store is adjourned

John Lewis The proposed development has been opposed by traders in other towns

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A public inquiry into proposals for a flagship John Lewis store in Northern Ireland has adjourned on its first day without hearing any of the evidence.

Opponents of the proposed retail expansion at Sprucefield, near Lisburn, won the right to mount a new legal challenge on Friday.

Rival traders claim the Department of Environment should have placed newspaper adverts about the scheme.

The department is to readvertise part of the planning application next month.

It is now likely that the inquiry will resume again in October

MP for the area, Jeffrey Donaldson said that the point of a public inquiry was to allow all objectors and people to voice their opinion on the scheme.

"These opponents are not acting on behalf of the public, really they just want to stop John Lewis coming to Northern Ireland.

"This is a major investor, it would create over 1000 jobs in Northern Ireland and the message going out is that Northern Ireland is closed for business."

Glyn Roberts, Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive, said his members object to the location of the store.

"We welcome the inquiry and all sides get their day in court and to have their say."

The trading association argue that the department store along with 19 other stores would increase out-of-town shopping.

"Our preference would've been for a town centre location but I think a decision needs to be made and the traders, and John Lewis need closure," Mr Roberts added.

The owners of the retail centre have been trying to get approval for the store since 2004.

Traders from rival retail hubs Bow Street Mall and Central Craigavon Ltd launched several legal proceedings opposing the 500,000 sq ft plans.

Overturned

Their latest concern is the alleged irregularities in the advertising of environmental information regarding the retail expansion scheme.

On Friday, lawyers successfully argued that the newspaper advertisements should have been placed by the Department of Environment rather than the applicant.

The legal challenge is the latest twist in the protracted bid to realise an expansion to Sprucefield Park first announced in 2004.

Up to 2,000 jobs were to be created, including around 700 at the first John Lewis store in Ireland.

Planning permission was granted at first, only to be overturned following a legal challenge by other traders.

They object to the building of a large-scale retail project which they said could damage town-centre shopping.

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