THE proposed John Lewis Sprucefield store could be heading for the shelves after Environment Minister Alex Attwood said it could sell bulky goods only.
The Minister was speaking on Friday ahead of a government decision on a public inquiry into the store’s planning application.
“Sprucefield will play a key role as a regional centre which will complement rather than compete with Belfast and existing city and town centres,” he said.
A John Lewis store at Sprucefield would be its first site in Northern Ireland.
However, the company has been waiting nine years to try and open up in the province after first making its planning application in 2004.
The application has been continually delayed by long-running rows in and out of court.
Traders claim the department store could damage city centre trading, and Alex Attwood said his comments are part of a “precautionary approach to retailing” considering the high vacancy rate.
Minister Attwood added added that any plans for new shops must take into account the expansion of Sprucefield for only large items such as furniture and electrical goods.
But Minister Attwood said he was not trying to prejudice the outcome of a public inquiry into the Sprucefield planning application, which is due to open in April.
“That planning application remains to be considered carefully following the Planning Appeals Commission Inquiry Report,” he explained.
“All the relevant issues within the public inquiry report will be interrogated carefully before a final Ministerial decision is made.
Meanwhile, Lisburn city centre is to be put forward for additional retail spaces and Mr Attwood said the centre of Belfast needs to be seen as the leading shopping centre in Northern Ireland.
“I am strongly committed to putting Belfast first in these difficult times. This is consistent with the revised Regional Development Strategy 2035 which aims to strengthen Belfast as the regional economic driver and the primary retail location in Northern Ireland,” he said.
Mr Attwood also wants to increase shops in Bangor, Carrickfergus, Ballyclare, Carryduff and Holywood town centres.
“I also want to see Lisburn City Centre and other town centres in the metropolitan area taking additional retail floor space,” he said.
His comments are part of the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan retail strategy, which it is hoped will be adopted by his department by the end of March.