John Lewis chain store shelves plans to open flagship shop in North

Sat, Feb 2, 2013, 00:00

Department store chain John Lewis is still considering an outlet in Dublin after plans to open a flagship shop in Lisburn, 16km south of Belfast, were left in disarray yesterday.

The retail giant withdrew its plans for a store at the Sprucefield shopping centre, just off the main Belfast to Dublin road. The proposal for 19 retail outlets, with John Lewis as anchor tenant, had been nine years in the pipeline. The decision was blamed on a move, last month, by Stormont Minister for the Environment Alex Attwood that would limit John Lewis to selling “bulky goods” such as furniture and white goods.

John Lewis said it had been committed to investing more than £150 million into the Sprucefield project, creating more than 1,500 local jobs.

DUP First Minister Peter Robinson said it was “bad news for Northern Ireland” and appeared to undermine Mr Attwood’s decision, saying: “I remain committed to ensuring the Executive will address the issue in the near future and hope that the new circumstances will be created to allow a new John Lewis application for Sprucefield.”

Mr Attwood said he had no intention of changing his mind and that it was not his job to make planning decisions on the basis of “commercial interests”. He had previously explained the rationale behind his decision as “putting Belfast first”.

Only site

“Sprucefield will play a key role as a regional centre which will complement rather than compete with Belfast and existing city and town centres. That is why I have decided to restrict future retailing at Sprucefield, said Mr Attwood.”

John Lewis confirmed Sprucefield was the only site in the North it would consider. The company was, however, still thinking about a store in the Republic, although this was unlikely to be in the immediate future. “Obviously, the market has changed dramatically since we first put in a planning application for a major development in Dublin. But the desire and the intent is still there.”