Asda has been branded hypocritical by north Belfast residents after throwing its weight behind a campaign to save playing fields across the UK.
They say the company has joined forces with the Fields in Trust charity to protect 2012 outdoor recreational spaces — yet it is planning to build a superstore at Loughside Playing Fields.
To replace the playing fields, new floodlit pitches would be built at what is now Loughside Park, meaning the loss of half-a-mile of green parkland in a built-up area.
Last week the Duke of Cambridge gave his backing to the Queen Elizabeth II Fields Challenge to protect 2012 outdoor recreational spaces.
Asda is the principal partner with Fields in Trust (Fit) which backs the challenge.
But residents said the plans to “tear out parkland in an area which has few green spaces as it is to build an Asda superstore” was incompatible with the ethos that it is promoting with Fit.
Asda is asking for donations to Fit at its Shore Road branch.
More than 1,500 people have lodged objections to the £14m Bayshore Developments deal to convert Loughside Recreation Centre and sports pitches into a retail centre with an Asda store, while floodlit pitches will be developed at nearby Loughside Park.
In a statement, residents said: “It is disingenuous that Asda is distancing itself from this responsibility by saying that Belfast City Council is the vendor of the parkland and Bayshore Developments is the purchaser and they are simply the key tenant.
“Publicly, on the Asda website, the company is promoting its links with the Fit initiative in order to garner positive corporate responsibility PR, but at the same time they are promoting the destruction of much-cherished parkland. We feel those goals are incompatible.
“For its part, Belfast City Council, like other UK cities, has been participating in Fit’s initiative while remaining intent on destroying both Loughside Playing Fields and the adjoining park.
Organisations cannot pledge their support to a cause publicly and then engage in projects that run contrary to their publicly stated ethos. That is the definition of hypocritical.”
A new Save Loughside Park Facebook page has been set up, along with an ePetition at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-the-park.html#fbbox.
An Asda spokesman said: “We continue to engage with all sections of the community on our schemes and are more than willing to talk to residents about any concerns they may have.
“We are committed not only to saving our customers money every day, but also to playing a full part in the communities where we have stores.”
Story so far
The £14m plans would see Belfast City Council sell Loughside Recreation Centre and its neighbouring playing fields to Bayshore Developments. The playing fields would be relocated to Loughside Park. Subject to planning permission, a 3G all-weather pitch, sports pavilion and children’s play facilities will be built on Loughside Park.