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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  • joeCanuck

    Is it the case that some of our “leaders” can talk more quickly than they can think?

  • Angry Planner

    This is what happens when you put a total moron in charge of planning! You would never hear the equivalent minister in Whitehall, Edinburgh or Cardiff make comments like this because they are advised by their civil servants not to get drawn in. There are also legal and administrative safeguards to be observed. Poots refuses to listen to advice and regularly overules his officials. However the worst thing about this farce and others like BCA is that Planning Service managers don’t have the cojones to stand up to him and tell him he can’t just say “I want this done!”

    The reason why Central Craigavon are able to get JR’s on this case is because Planning Service keep trying to rush the app to the public inquiry and fail to follow the correct proceedures. Poots is right on one thing, this wouldn’t happen elsewhere in the UK, that’s because no other planning authority would behave in this way!!

  • pippakin

    I expect this sort of thing to happen, some people/parties are learning that the law actually does apply in the north. How refreshing!

  • Brian Walker

    I hear rumours that John Lewis are privately not unhappy at further delay until growth picks up.. but it’s a real bugger’s muddle. Is Angry Planner right or does no one advise these raw ministers about what they can or cannot say or to do they ignore the advice? This should be flushed out in the Assembly. In a fully functioning government, the leadership would impose discipline and issue a coded public rebuke.

  • DC

    I think Sammy Wilson must think he operates the Fuhrerprinzip.

    Sammy Wilson is so outrageous at times that he can probably only draw solace from Fuhrer-esque behaviour, who himself privately threatened:

    “to send the justice ministry to the devil through a Reichstag law.”

    Not hard to see why Sammy and human rights and equality don’t get on!

    Poots on the other hand is just plain slow on the uptake!

  • Angry Planner

    They try to advise him but he just ignores them and they’re afraid to stand up to him.

    And if a minister elsewhere in the UK broke a sub-judice rule it would be considered a resigning matter.

  • pippakin

    Angry Planner

    Bear with them some of the norths ‘politicians’ are learning a hard lesson: even they are subject to the rule of law. For some of them it’s a genuine first!

  • Angry Planner

    I know Pip, in a way it’s great to see Wilson and Poots’ schemes blow up in their faces, but on the other it’s painful seeing my profession having it’s reputation wrecked by these prats.

  • pippakin

    Angry Planner

    The only reputations in danger are those of the ‘politicians’ and for them there is the easy way or the hard way. Messrs Wilson & Poots are finding out the hard way and for them it is as humiliating as it is salutary!

  • Dr Concitor

    The DUP don’t seem to do planning very well and Peter Robinson sets such a good example. Hard to explain!

  • jtwo

    Poots is up to his tits now.

    Girvan LJ has asked the AG to consider contempt proceedings and has warned “the gravity of what transpired on Friday morning should not be underestimated.”

  • Pete Baker

    Update AG to consider contempt of court proceedings.

  • PJ Maybe

    You know, really, this seems an awful lot of fuss to go to over a shop which, successful or not, will add nothing to the retail mix that already exists in Northern Ireland. It would be different if their proposition was somehow unique, or they offered products unavailable anywhere else. But, and bluntly, they don’t. If Poots et al had spent a tenth of the time assisting the now non-existent indigenous retailers, then I believe we’d all be better off. Instead we have interminable legal battles, fought largely over semantics, which is costing a fortune so we can have another identikit, homogenised retailer selling the exact same stuff, as they sell in their other branches, at the exact same price, competing against other retailers selling the exact same stuff, at the exact same price. When John Lewis finally opens there are going to be a hell of a lot of people asking “is that it? Is that all John Lewis are? A glorified Debenhams selling Dior cosmetics and Panasonic TVs with free 5 year warranties? Big frigging deal”

  • fp veritas

    Every penny John Lewis make will go straight out of
    Northern Ireland

    Do they at this time buy any mechandise from supliers
    in Northern Ireland?

  • Glencoppagagh

    You’re completely missing the point PJ. John Lewis is an outstanding retailer with an unrivalled reputation for value and quality. Retailers of cheap (Debenhams) and overpriced (HoF) tat are terrified of them as are many local retailers especially in furnishing.
    Just as the entry of Sainsbury and Tesco raised standards in food retailing here, John Lewis will do the same for just about everything else.
    I share Poots frustration at the delaying tactics of fearful competitors. If the developers of Victoria Square had any sense, they’d have given John Lewis whatever it took to get them in there.

  • Glencoppagagh

    So where does your local electrical , clothing or furnishing retailer source their goods?

  • Alias

    All of the money deposited with national retailers in NI will be in English banks within 24hrs with taxes defaulting to Her Majesty’s government and NI enjoying the benefits of local retail employment. As NI is a part, it doesn’t matter. It only matters if consumers in one sovereign jurisdiction such as Ireland spend their money in another sovereign jurisdiction such as NI. In that case jobs are exported from the Irish state to the British state and taxes and other benefits of capital accrue to the UK and are lost to Ireland.

  • Alias

    “As NI is a part of the UK, it doesn’t matter.”

  • Alias

    If the BBC invited the minister to comment on matters that are sub judice then the BBC are in the dock just as much as the minister.

  • Bungditin

    Brian – I think AP has a point. There was the recent highly embarassing , but unfortunately not widely reported episode at the anual Royal Town Planning Institute bash where the Environment Minister gave the key note speech. Instead of sticking to the carefully crafted script, with no big words, prepared by a civil servant from DOE, Poots boldly announced that he was setting this aside and then incoherently jabbered about his aul da’s views of planners and “how they’d give you nothing”. Brown envelopes also got a mention or two. Cringeworthy stuff!

  • PJ Maybe

    I don’t think I am. John Lewis do not offer a unique proposition. House of Frazer are the equivalent in the sector they compete. They are Comet to Lewis’ Currys. They source product from the same suppliers, they charge the same prices and they offer the same level of service. Of course when I say “compete” I mean co-exist. They and John Lewis sit above Dehenhams, but lower than Selfridges in the market, however there is little differentiation between the two, as even a casual glance at their existing stores will testify. You could swap the signage around and largely you’d be none the wiser.
    I’d also contend the point about Sainsburys and Tesco raising standards. if anything I argue they lowered standards, while at the same time reducing choice and contributing to the emasculated retail environment which exists in Northern Ireland. Think about the centre of Belfast. Think how many retailers are either indigenous to Northern Ireland or from the Island of Ireland. There aren’t many. Easons and Dunnes are the only two I can think of. And this is the thing. Every single city high street in the UK and Ireland are identical. Well all buy the same things, from the same shops, at same prices, all sourced from the same suppliers.

  • PJ Maybe

    Which local electrical retailer? With the (unsurprising but saddening) demise of Laser, the days of anyone in Northern Ireland being able to properly compete with the multiples or the internet effectively ended. The small independents which remain rely (mainly) on buying stuff from Euronics (the combined buying power of independents) or they source from the Irish republic, depending on the relative values of the exchange rate.
    Even the larger retailers in this sector are getting it really tough. If the rumours are to be believed (I’m sceptical, as they sound like their competitors wishful thinking in my opinion) then at least one of the larger players in this part of the Irish market is on the cusp of having to make some fairly blunt choices, especially if this coming Christmas is anything like as bad as last years was. The current mood music I’m hearing is that they are bracing for the worst.

  • fp veritas

    Tesco/Aada/Sainsbury/Lidl /M&S all buy lots of Northern Ireland merchandise

    All the JLl profit will go out of the country and I well
    remember A Foster saying that money spent in local shops circulated 7 times in the economy to the benifit
    of all in Northern Ireland
    If the cash is spent in local shops HMRC will still get their cut and local jobs will be protected ..All retailers
    need staff to sell/serve customers

    I do NOT notice the name John Lewis on the electoral roll in

    Laganvalley Do they sell Home Movies JD?

  • fp veritas

    No comment from the Dup/JD that “the partnership”
    open on the Lords Day

    What has Lord Backside to say about this?