John Lewis inquiry delayed due to Minister’s comments

Official statements by the then Northern Ireland Environment Minister, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, have already been quashed by one member of the judiciary because they unlawfully changed planning policy to “give greater weight to [the] economic considerations” of any proposed development. 

Now the BBC reports that the Planning Appeals Commission has confirmed a further delay to the public inquiry into the John Lewis development at Sprucefield.  The reason?  Legal concerns about comments made in a recent interview by the current NI Enviroment Minister, the DUP’s Edwin Poots.

From the BBC report

William Orbinson QC, appearing for retailers, including the House of Fraser and other businesses in Belfast, read extracts from Mr Poots’ interview on the Nolan Show.

In it Mr Poots said it was “outrageous” for the courts to allow applications for judicial review to be heard whenever it is one commercial interest against another, without actually dealing with issues relating to them.

He also said that this would not be the case in the rest of the UK, before adding that he is getting a report prepared to advise on what steps can be taken to amend legislation, the court heard.

Roy Martin QC, appearing for the department, pointed out that in the same interview the minister made clear he was not saying John Lewis was going to go ahead.

Lord Justice Girvan said claims of bias may surface once a decision is taken on the planning application for the proposed development at Sprucefield, near Lisburn.

“What has transpired in the transcript may strengthen that argument,” he said.

He also said issues around the sub judice rule might be raised by Mr Poots giving the interview after legal proceedings were under way.

Update AG to consider contempt of court proceedings.

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