That was the claim made by Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson following suggestions that Belfast City Council is stepping up its efforts to attract the high-end retailer to the city centre.
According to the BBC, a report for the city council suggests that the opening of a John Lewis store at Sprucefield could have a significant impact on consumer spending in Belfast - reducing the annual spend in the city centre by £47m. It goes on to state that John Lewis would be “very positive for Belfast”, potentially increasing retail spending in the city by 17 per cent.
John Lewis has been mooted as a potential tenant in the city’s proposed Royal Exchange development at Royal Avenue, but Mr Donaldson believes Sprucefield is still the company’s preferred location.
“This report comes as no surprise because, from day one, we have faced opposition from Belfast to John Lewis locating its first store on the island of Ireland at Sprucefield,” he said. “It does not matter how many reports are produced, in the end it will be John Lewis who decide where they locate their store in Northern Ireland. Indeed this report actually highlights the reality that Belfast currently lacks the retail attractiveness that John Lewis are looking for.
“The retailer has long made clear that its first preference is Sprucefield given its strategic location on the main Belfast - Dublin corridor and a potential catchment in excess of two million people within easy travelling distance - far greater than the Belfast City Centre catchment. This is crucial as John Lewis has made clear they need the type of footfall only Sprucefield can offer in order to make a store here viable.”
The DUP representative added: “Following the recent High Court ruling against the retail planning policy imposed by the previous Minister, it is essential that the current Minister now removes the restrictions on development at Sprucefield so that a new planning application can be submitted.
“We will continue to give our full support to the efforts to bring John Lewis to Sprucefield.”