Published: Thursday, 17th March 2016
Plan-making and decisions on major schemes across much of Northern Ireland are now in difficulties following a High Court judge’s ruling over the status of the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP).
Mr Justice Treacy held that SDLP Environment Minister Mark H Durkan acted unilaterally and unlawfully in authorising the BMAP in September 2014 without the agreement of Northern Ireland Executive colleagues.
The successful legal challenge was mounted by the then Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party.
The judge backed claims that because the plan’s significance stretched across a number of separate departments it needed approval from the Stormont cabinet.
“In the present case, the minister having failed to achieve any agreement at the Executive sub-group, acted unilaterally and unlawfully by authorising and directing the Department to adopt the BMAP without informing the Executive until after the event and despite objections having been raised by other ministers” the judge ruled.
The court heard that the legal action involved a disagreement along party political lines, with the DUP opposed to the restrictions on retail activity adopted by the SDLP minister in the BMAP which meant that a long-proposed John Lewis store could not be built at the Sprucefield shopping centre on the edge of Lisburn, Co Down.
A DOE spokesperson said: “The minister is currently considering the judgment of the Court.”
Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell insisted: “The judgment will mean that a revised BMAP will be brought back to the Executive for consideration and agreement. The significant area of concern with BMAP as it stands is the restriction that it would have placed on retail development at Sprucefield.”
Individual council local development plans and major planning applications are meant to comply with the regional land-use blueprint, the BMAP.
The plan covers Belfast City, Carrickfergus Borough, Castlereagh Borough, Lisburn City, Newtownabbey Borough and North Down Borough Council areas where some 40 per cent of Northern Ireland’s population live.