More than 1,500 people have opposed plans to ‘wipe out’ playing fields, flatten a leisure centre and uproot a popular park in north Belfast to make way for a new Asda superstore.
The proposals would see Belfast City Council sell Loughside Recreation Centre and its neighbouring playing fields to Asda for £14m.
The playing fields would be re-located down the Shore Road to what is currently Loughside |Park.
More than 1,500 individual letters of objection have been received by planners considering whether to give the green light to the ambitious scheme.
However, Asda says Planning NI has received a petition carried out at its existing Shore Road store with 1,131 signatures of support, along with two other community-led petitions with a combined total of 560 signatures supporting the new development.
Asda is planning to build a superstore, car park, petrol station and a number of non-food retail units on the site of the current Loughside Recreation Centre and playing fields.
If this gets approved, Belfast City Council will then develop a new 3G all-weather pitch, sports pavilion and children’s play facilities on the nearby Loughside Park, along with residential units on a neighbouring site.
The proposal has been the subject of a vociferous campaign by local residents who say many of them will be unable to use the new sports facilities, so these will not compensate for the loss of a much-loved park which is used by families, joggers and dog walkers.
“This is a mature park with hundreds of trees and seats and people love it,” one resident said.
“Belfast City Council have been trying for 10 or so years to sell off these playing fields.
“Not since the Second World War has a whole half mile of greenery been wiped out in such a dramatic fashion. Everyone is saying this is a done deal.”
Concerned residents groups from Donegall Park Avenue, Shore Road and Shore Crescent have been campaigning against the proposal for the last year.
Last night they said in a statement: “The overwhelming majority of local residents are totally opposed to the Loughside development plan of Belfast City Council and Asda which would destroy half a mile of green open space on the busy Shore Road in north Belfast.
“Almost 1,500 letters of objection to date have been lodged with the Planning Service.
“For a decade Belfast City Council has been trying to sell off the 14 acres of Loughside playing fields and parkland. The intention is for Asda to relocate their present store 400 yards to the playing fields and parkland, together with a petrol station, retail units and massive car park. Loughside Leisure Centre would be demolished.
“The adjoining mature landscaped park at the foot of Donegall Park Avenue (approximately 120 acres) would be levelled and crammed with three replacement fenced-off floodlit pitches and changing/ meeting rooms.
“This would mean that all the present natural green open space would be eliminated.”
Friends of the Earth has expressed its concern.
“Residents on the Shore Road, Shore Crescent, Donegall Park Avenue, Parkmount, Waveney, Downview are appalled. There has been no proper consultation with them by the council — a fact admitted to by elected representatives.”
Asda plans to build an improved store on Loughside Playing Fields, replacing its existing store on |the Shore Road. It promises a new 49,000 sq ft store, more than 500 car parking spaces, a petrol station and 150 new jobs. To compensate for the loss of the playing fields, Belfast City Council will develop a new 3G all weather pitch, sports pavilion and children’s play facilities at nearby Loughside Park, currently a mature park used by families, dog walkers and joggers.
Our plans will benefit the local community, says store giant
Asda has said its plans to build a new superstore complex on the site of playing fields in north Belfast will result in significant benefits for the local community.
A spokesman for the company said that replacement leisure facilities would represent a significant improvement to those currently on offer. The spokesman said: “We believe our plans for a new improved Asda store for the Shore Road will bring significant benefits to the local community.
“As well as the new store, the plans will deliver improved recreational facilities. These include a floodlit 3G pitch, grass pitch and a multi-use games area.”
The spokesman added: “This represents a marked improvement on the current facilities offered at Loughside.
“According to Belfast City Council, the current Loughside recreational facilities are ‘in decline and under-performing’ and Sport NI have written to Planning NI highlighting the fact that the proposed 3G pitch will have six times the usage of the existing grass and describing the current gravel pitch as ‘dated and unsafe’. Over 1,600 people in the local community have recognised these benefits. Planning NI has received a petition carried out at our existing store on the Shore Road with 1,131 signatures of support and two other community-led petitions with a combined total of 560 signatures of support from local people.”.
The DoE said it couldn’t provide exact figures but had |received in excess of 1,000 |objections to the application and one petition of support carrying approximately 1,100 names.
Friends of the Earth said: “If our economy is to flourish Belfast needs to strengthen its local shops and reduce the impact of large multiples. To privatise this public space in the interest of a large supermarket would be a shocking decision.”