Developer airs frustration after Infrastructure Minister 'calls-in' major Lisburn scheme

Neptune Carleton LLP’s proposal centres on 220-acres between Lisburn and the M1 at Blaris.
Neptune Carleton LLP’s proposal centres on 220-acres between Lisburn and the M1 at Blaris.

THE developer behind plans to build 1,300 new homes in Lisburn has accused the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) of stalling plans for a massive multi-million-pound investment in the area.

Patrick Heffron of the London-based Neptune Group said he is seriously re-assessing future investments in Northern Ireland in light of the experience over the past nine months.

The £250m ‘Blaris’ plans, which include 750,000 sq ft of commercial space and a £15m link road at Sprucefield, were approved by Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council (LCCC) in April 2021.

Among those who addressed the planning committee to speak in favour of the project, was Lagan Valley MP and current DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

Neptune, which also owns the Linen Green in Dungannon, has submitted the application in partnership with landowner Thornton Farms.

Mr Heffron said the scheme could be worth up to £500m to the local economy over the next 15 years.

But Neptune said the council was prevented from issuing formal planning approval pending DfI's own assessment of the proposals. The developer has accused the department of “inaction, lack of communication and clarity” over the intervening nine months.

DfI confirmed on Monday that Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has now formally ‘called in’ the applications, with directions given to LCCC on January 4.

Planning powers were devolved to councils in 2015, but DfI retains the power to intervene in exceptional cases, including those deemed to be of regional significance.

In a statement to The Irish News, DfI cited the proposed development’s potential conflict with a number of regional planning policies and strategies, including the Regional Development Strategy 2035, the local development plan for the Lisburn area and the draft Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan 2015.

“It is, therefore, considered to be an exceptional case and the regional and sub-regional issues raised would benefit from further scrutiny by the department,” said a spokesperson.

“Any decisions to call in an application are only taken after careful consideration and due process.

“These applications are now within the jurisdiction of DfI. As soon as the department is in receipt of all the documentation regarding the applications, it will assess all material planning considerations and progress the applications for the minister to decide as soon as possible.”

But Patrick Heffron says he is unimpressed with the pace of progress.

He said: “I have delivered many major property developments in areas across GB over the last 20 years and have never before encountered such a planning process where a government department is able to stall such significant applications in this way, with no engagement with either the council’s planning department or the applicant – there seems to be a total disconnection between planning and economic development.

“It has made me seriously re-assess future investment in Northern Ireland.”