LISBURN City Council’s Planning Committee has passed a vote of no confidence in Environment Minister Alex Attwood and called on him to resign his position.
The vote comes in the wake of the decision by John Lewis to withdraw their planning application for a new store at Sprucefield following comments by Mr Attwood that development at the regional shopping centre should be restricted to “bulky goods”.
Members of the committee took a recorded vote on the proposal to pass a vote of no confidence, which was made by Alderman Jim Dillon. At the time of the vote the members of Sinn Fein had already left the meeting. The SDLP members voted against the proposal.
The members of the UUP, DUP and Alliance all voted in favour of the proposal. The committee agreed to write to Mr Attwood urging him to resign his position.
The Planning Committee also agreed to write a letter of support to John Lewis and Westfield, to send a letter to the First and Deputy First Ministers asking for a meeting to discuss the matter, to write to all of the Ministers on the Executive voicing the committee’s support for the development and the committee agreed to write to the leader of the SDLP seeking a meeting to discuss his Minister’s actions.
At the beginning of the heated discussion on the John Lewis situation, the Director of Environmental Services, Colin McClintock, said the Minister’s statement had “far reaching and fundamental consequences for Sprucefield.”
During the discussion the members placed the blame for the withdrawal of the application firmly at the feet of the Environment Minister.
“The decision the Minister took is disgraceful,” said Alderman Allan Ewart. “In the present economic climate and with the construction industry on its knees we have the opportunity for £150 million investment and 1,500 jobs. Are we now sending out a message that you are not welcome in Northern Ireland unless you go to Belfast?”
The Mayor, Alderman William Leathem, commended Westfield and John Lewis for remaining committed to Sprucefield for so long. Mr Leathem also said he remained hopeful that John Lewis will still come to Sprucefield.
He added: “I call on the Minister to do the decent thing and resign.”
Alderman Jim Dillon, proposing a vote of no confidence in the Minister, said: “To call this a disappointment would be the biggest understatement ever made in this chamber.”
Alderman Paul Givan, who is also an Assembly member, said the decision by the Minister must be overturned. “This was a retail policy and that is something the Executive can call in and I welcome the fact the Sinn Fein have agreed to have it called in.
“This decision sends a message to companies not to come to Northern Ireland. It will be the gerrymandering of retail boundaries in Northern Ireland and it is blatant discrimination against everyone outside Belfast.”
Alliance councillor Stephen Martin said the John Lewis development was “hanging by a thread.”
He added: “Lisburn City Council all stand together and the Alliance group will be lobbying our Minister.”
Councillor Uel Mackin said the Minister must “wake up and smell the coffee” and stressed that John Lewis remain committed to Sprucefield.
Councillor Andrew Ewing added: “The Minister seems to think that John Lewis will automatically go to Belfast but they are only interested in Sprucefield. He is playing a dangerous game with people’s jobs.”
Alderman Paul Porter, seconding the proposal to pass a vote of no confidence, added: “The Minister should go. He needs to do the honourable thing.”