Robinson hits out at 'selfish' retail planning wrangles

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson has hit out at retailers that seek to use the planning system to block rival developments.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson
Speaking yesterday at a conference in Belfast, Robinson said the planning system should be allowed to operate "for the purpose it was intended and not as a battlefield to thwart new completions".   

"Planning applications can be delayed in the courts for purely selfish economic reasons, but this merely denies much needed investment in Northern Ireland", he said.

"I have to say that I would far rather see effort and money invested in improving what is offered to the consumer than in seeking to block competitions."

Robinson’s comments tacitly refer to the long-running legal fight by retailers in Lisburn against plans for a new John Lewis store at nearby Sprucefield.

He said retailers should move with changing consumer habits and tastes. "Government can devise planning policies that encourage development in one location rather than another, but we can’t tell people where they want to shop," he said.

Speaking at the same event, Northern Ireland environment minister Alex Attwood said he would "breathe new life" into existing retail planning policy.

The minister said he hoped to present draft Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS5) on out of town and city centre shopping to the Northern Ireland Executive in two weeks time.

He said: "We need to create certainty around planning applications for our out of town and our city centres. In my opinion, draft PPS5 will help to do that. It is a roadmap towards a more balanced and up to date retail planning policy that is why I will seek the endorsement of the executive.

"The need for this draft planning policy has existed for years. It is time to deliver. I have shown decisiveness in other planning matters such as with the Runkerry golf complex on the north coast. I intend to show the same decisiveness with retail planning."

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