Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Split decision for planners as Asda proposal divides locals down middle

It looks like a draw between supporters and objectors to a plan to build a supermarket on a park.

Last week north Belfast residents opposed to plans for an Asda store said that more than 1,500 letters of objection had been sent to planners.

Asda said the figure was more like 971 — and that 1,691 people had signed supporting the £14m Bayshore Developments deal to convert Loughside Recreation Centre and sports pitches into a retail centre with an Asda store.

Playing fields would be developed at nearby Loughside Park — currently mature parkland.

Yesterday the DoE said planners had received 1,444 letters of objection and one petition of objection carrying 236 signatures.

They also received three petitions of support with 1,683 signatures and two letters of support.

That comes to a nailbiting 1,680 objectors and 1,685 supporters.

The DoE said the decision whether to grant the go-ahead to the scheme would not come down to a straight numbers game.

The Green Party said the sale of municipal parks for development sets a “worrying precedent”.

Green Party North Belfast spokesman Stephen Rooney added: “There will be the loss of a publicly accessible greenfield site, increased pollution and waste, a much greater volume of traffic on an already busy road without the infrastructure to support it, possible dereliction of the former Asda site when the store moves from its current location, and only a small increase in mostly low-paid jobs for local residents.”

Asda said that current facilities at Loughside Recreation Centre were branded “in decline and underperforming” by the council.

A spokesman added: “The new site will also have its green element with landscaping and the planting of over 1,200 new trees with dedicated paths for dog walkers and joggers as well as sports facilities.”

The company said the scheme will create up to 150 new full-time and part-time jobs, as well as securing the 250 jobs in the existing store, with another 120 jobs in new retail warehouses.

“When we conducted our in-store consultation for which we gained 1,131 signatures in support of the development, we had a mock-up of what the development would look like upon completion and all of the stages were explained in detail to those people we engaged with,” a spokesman said.

“Our petition was not the only support for the development —there were also 401 signatures in favour from the Mount Vernon residents’ own petition and 159 from Loughside Football Club’s petition, a grand total of 1,691 in favour of the development, as well as engagement with individuals and community groups.”

Asda said it was more than willing to talk to anyone about the development, whether political representative, community group or individual.

“We really want to work with the community on this and we have been out talking to community groups from all the areas within the catchment,” the spokesman said.

A City Council spokesman said: “We are supporting this scheme on the grounds that it is a realistic, serious, achievable improvement proposal which we believe will lead to further regeneration in this area. It is our understanding that many residents are in favour of the proposals.”

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