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Lidl Connswater decision on hold as firm makes plea to council planners

By John Mulgrew

Published 18/05/2016

Plan: Many locals back the proposal
Plan: Many locals back the proposal

A decision on whether to refuse planning permission for a new branch of Lidl at struggling Connswater Shopping Centre in east Belfast has been delayed until next month.

The store, which Belfast City Council planners previously said should not go ahead, was due to be discussed and voted on last night.

However, it was pulled from the schedule after the German supermarket giant lodged a response to the council's previous recommendation.

A spokeswoman for the company said the planning office had requested more time to review the response, "which outlines the positive impact that a new Lidl store can bring to the area".

"As a result, the hearing has been deferred until next month," she added.

Council planners had recommended refusal for the 23,000sq ft development at Connswater despite support from the shopping centre and traders in the area.

While planners gave a number of reasons for their recommendation, their primary concern was the availability of vacant sites such as the former Tesco and Dunnes buildings at Connswater, and vacant sites at the Park Centre in west Belfast and at Forestside in south Belfast, as well as at other shopping centres

The council received three letters backing the application, including one from East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson.

The agent behind the Lidl scheme previously claimed the new store would create 10 jobs and bring around £2.5m of investment.

The Lidl spokeswoman said that the budget chain appreciated that "the council is taking more time to review our submission, and we hope they will be persuaded to grant permission".

She added: "We would like to take this opportunity to once again thank everyone who has supported our application so far."

Jolene Gibson, chairperson of the Connswater Traders' Association, which represents businesses at the shopping centre, said there was a great deal of backing for the plans.

"There has been unanimous support from our elected representatives for the Lidl application, which would bring vital new jobs, increase footfall and would act as a catalyst for other businesses to move into the centre and retail park," Ms Gibson said.

Connswater manager Gerry Monaghan had previously said the supermarket could prove a lifeline for the centre, which has seen shopper numbers fall recently.

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