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Fresh twist over Greater Belfast development plan saga

Published: Thursday, 24th November 2016

High court ruling ends uncertainty for the Belfast Metropolitan area by confirming that the bulky goods restriction should not be taken into account in informing planning decisions...

The saga of the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) has taken a fresh twist following a high court ruling supporting a remedy put forward by two Stormont departments (Infrastructure and Economy).

The BMAP has been under a cloud following a long-running wrangle over whether there should be bulky goods restriction for the Sprucefield regional shopping centre. The issue divided ministers in the last Stormont administration, prompting a court case which found that the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan planning policy had been adopted unlawfully.

Last Friday’s ruling confirmed that the remaining policies of the BMAP should continue to apply and that the strategy should remain in force but that the bulky goods restriction should not be taken into account in informing planning decisions.

Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard said the court’s decision “had ended a long period of uncertainty for Belfast Metropolitan area”.

“I have previously confirmed to executive colleagues that I intend to bring forward a review of retailing policy in relation to Sprucefield and will seek their agreement in due course.” However, Belfast City Council has announced it will challenge the ruling in the appeal court.

Councillor John Hussey, chairman of the city council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, said: “Planning policy is drafted and issued as a democratic function of government. The judgement raises important issues regarding the role of the courts in sanctioning changes to planning policy when the original complaint was that a Minister acted unlawfully. Changes to policy need to be made in a way that is properly informed and following consultation.

“The policy in question defines retailing at Sprucefield, any changes to such policy need to be properly informed and assessed. The council will do everything that is necessary to ensure that Belfast’s regeneration and investment strategy is delivered and this includes protecting existing retail and developing our retail offering to ensure we can compete with other regional cities regards retail provision.

“This is not about Belfast versus anywhere else. The key point is that Belfast as a regional city needs a critical mass of services including a diverse retail offering.”

Read the news story.

Roger Milne