Northern Ireland

Mark H Durkan: 'BMAP legal challenge a waste of money'

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Media captionThe Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan covers not just Belfast but outlying areas like Carrickfergus, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and north Down

Northern Ireland's environment minister has criticised a ministerial colleague for bringing a legal challenge against him over a major planning policy.

Last month, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan gave his approval to the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP), without the agreement of all other ministers.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster objected to his decision to act alone and she is seeking a judicial review.

Mr Durkan described her upcoming court challenge as a "waste" of public money.

BMAP identifies planning zones for retail, residential or commercial development and is set to affect almost 40% of the Northern Ireland population.

It covers not just Belfast, but outlying areas such as Carrickfergus, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and north Down.

'Delay after delay'

Announcing her plans to seek a judicial review, Ms Foster accused Mr Durkan of failing to bring BMAP before his ministerial colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive.

"Instead of bringing it back to the executive for discussion and approval, the DoE minister published it himself," she said.

Image caption Mark H Durkan accused Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster of choosing to waste public money on legal action over a "narrow political interest" at a time of public spending cuts

However, in a statement on Saturday, Mr Durkan said: "It is simply not true that I did not bring the final BMAP to the Executive.

"I tried on a number of occasions to get the Executive to reach a conclusion on this - but that proved impossible with delay after delay."

Mr Durkan said opposition to BMAP "hinged on one single issue - the question of retail development at Sprucefield".

Under BMAP, the future expansion of Sprucefield retail park in County Down would be limited to "bulky goods" only - which would mean a proposed John Lewis store could not be built there.

'Renewed uncertainty'

The John Lewis proposal was first announced 10 years ago, but proved highly controversial to those opposed to out-of-town developments.

The environment minister said he had adopted BMAP in a bid to "create certainty in planning for the Greater Belfast area" and claimed that Ms Foster's legal action would "inevitably inject a renewed atmosphere of uncertainty".

"It is difficult to understand why Arlene Foster, who has responsibility for the economy, would choose to waste public money on legal action on such a narrow political interest at this time, when people across the North are facing cuts in pay, welfare and public services" Mr Durkan added.

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