Executive ‘can overturn Minister on John Lewis plan’

THE Stormont Executive has been reassured by the Attorney General, John Larkin, that it can overrule Environment Minister Alex Attwood’s controversial planning opinion that led to John Lewis backing out of its plan to build the first Northern Ireland store at Sprucfield.

John Lewis had fought a long running battle to secure planning permission for the Sprucefield site, however, they made the decision to pull out after the Minister publicly announced that future development at Sprucefield should be limited to “bulky goods”..

First Minister Peter Robinson said advice from the Executive’s chief legal adviser meant that there was still hope that the high-end retailer would reapply to set up shop at Sprucefield.

He said it would have implications for other decisions which were “controversial, significant, cross-cutting or which is novel”.

“Alex Attwood said it was his decision and nobody could overrule him. I indicated he was wrong.

“I am now satisfied on the advice of the Attorney General that he does not have such an authority. The authority lies with the Executive,” the First Minister said.

He added: “Whether ministers like it or whether they don’t, that was what was negotiated at St Andrews and that is what the law says.

“Those decisions can be called in for the Executive to decide on.”