A proposal to expand the Sprucefield retail park near Lisburn could spell disaster for shops in Belfast city centre, traders have warned.
John Lewis wants to locate at Sprucefield
Belfast's Chamber of Trade and Commerce has lodged a formal objection to a planning application for Northern Ireland's first John Lewis department store.
The prestige store would be the anchor in a massive £200m extension to the out-of-town shopping centre.
Gerald Steinberg, the chamber's president, calculates the total scheme - 550,000 sq ft - amounts to "almost as much floor space as we have in the city centre".
John Lewis has agreed to take 200,000 sq ft of space - an investment of £40m, setting up its all-Ireland distribution centre and employing 1,000 full and part-time jobs.
Attracting the company would be a big catch for Northern Ireland, but traders in Lisburn and in Belfast, eight miles up the M1, have expressed concern that the sheer size of the scheme will harm the viability of their shopping areas.
John Lewis has indicated that if the planning process drags on over its Sprucefield plans, it would look instead at setting up in Dublin.
But Mr Steinberg believes John Lewis would have to consider Belfast city centre if planning at Sprucefield was refused.