A public inquiry will be launched into plans for a 500,000 sq ft retail extension at the Sprucefield retail scheme in Northern Ireland.

Australian developer Westfield and Irish developer Snoddons resubmitted a planning application for the Sprucefield retail development near Belfast in August last year.

Following opposition Westfield was forced to resubmit the plans which comprise a John Lewis department store plus 19 shops and cafés totalling 538,000 sq ft.

The revised proposal had been scaled back to a single level scheme with 19 units – a 34% reduction on the original number.

The joint venture’s initial plans to extend retail at Sprucefield were approved in 2005, but were later challenged and eventually overturned last year following a judicial review. Objectors criticised the scheme for going against the policy to prioritise town-centre schemes.

Environment minister Sammy Wilson said of the decision to launch a public inquiry: ‘I have considered the options available to me and I am satisfied that the best way forward is through the public inquiry procedure.’

A spokeswoman from John Lewis, which plans to anchor the scheme, said: ‘The developer Westfield believes that a public inquiry will be the most transparent and equitable route for all parties in determining the application and John Lewis supports them in this regard.

'Throughout what has been a long and protracted planning process, John Lewis has remained fully committed to opening a full-line deparment stores at Sprucefield. We see today’s news as an opportunity to get this important £150m development back on track.’