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Durkan signs off Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan amid controversy

Words: Roger Milne
Belfast city centre

NI environment minister Mark H Durkan has formally approved the long-delayed planning framework for the greater Belfast area, which affects some 40 per cent of the country's population.

Durkan announced this move in a statement in the NI Assembly on Monday (8 September) and the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan came into operation today (9 September). It covers not just Belfast but outlying areas such as Carrickfergus, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and North Down.
Controversially, Durkan has not got support from all his cabinet colleagues for this move. There is particular controversy over the plan’s policy to restrict the future expansion of retailing at Sprucefield to the sale of bulky goods.
Durkan said: “I acknowledge that certain concerns exist about this issue, but both my predecessor and I have previously explained in considerable detail the rationale for our approach which is consistent with the regional policy context to strengthen Belfast as the key economic driver for Northern Ireland, with Sprucefield playing a complementary role rather than competing with Belfast City Centre.
“It also seeks to avoid the impact on other town and city centres in the BMAP area and beyond.”
The plan itself is a substantial publication comprising seven volumes of material and runs to some 900 A4 pages, plus 30 larger maps. Its gestation has taken a long time and involved the most extensive consultation exercise ever undertaken for a development plan in Northern Ireland.