Boost for troubled Connswater as Lidl unveils expansion plan
In a major boost for Connswater, discount supermarket Lidl will expand its store at the ailing retail park with the creation of up to 15 jobs.
The future of the east Belfast retail park was thrown into doubt by the closure of Dunnes Stores in February and Tesco earlier this month.
Lidl's investment is a vote of confidence in Connswater and provides much needed stability for the retail park as it looks to fill the empty spaces left by Tesco and Dunnes.
The supermarket is still to receive planning permission for the new, bigger store, which is located at the other side of the retail park to its current unit.
The new supermarket will occupy the former JJB Sports, Halfords and Carpetright stores, all victims of a fire last year, with the three units converted into one store.
The Halfords and Carpetright stores are set to re-open 10 months after the blaze.
Lidl were unable to confirm at what level the jobs, numbering around 15, will be and whether they are full-time or part-time positions.
Gerry Monaghan, manager of Connswater Shopping Centre and Retail Park, said the investment is a big positive for the retail park.
"Lidl's decision to plan for a significant expansion in the retail park is fantastic news for Connswater and for the local area," he said.
"It's a major vote of confidence in the current store, in the staff they have and their loyal customers.
"Recently we have seen retailers positively invest inside the centre, including Specsavers which responded to a rise in demand with a £300,000 expansion into a larger unit and Vodafone which opened a new concept store, a first for them in east Belfast."
Ryan Kee, director of retail agency at Lambert Smith Hampton, the letting agent for Connswater, said Lidl's expansion should attract more investment.
"We anticipate that further investment will come forward as a direct result of these good news stories," he said.
Since its first outlet in Northern Ireland in 1999, German discount supermarket Lidl has opened 38 stores across the province.
Earlier this month, Lidl said it was planning to open as many as 15 more stores in the province, which would make it the second biggest supermarket in Northern Ireland behind Tesco.
It said the new store will be similar to recent openings on Bentrim Road in Lisburn and High Street in Belfast.
Paul Gibson, sales operations executive for Lidl NI, said: "Lidl is very much looking forward to the redevelopment of our Connswater store.
"We see great potential in this location and are looking forward to enhancing the shopping experience at this branch.
"Pending positive feedback from the planning authorities we hope to be in a position to be operating towards the end of the year."
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), said Lidl's investment provides hope of a better future for Connswater.
"I hope Lidl's expansion can provide some degree of stability," he said. "Connswater has a bright future and I hope it can replace Dunnes and Tesco.
"Connswater has been there since 1984 and has a big contribution to local employment and the retail sector in that part of east Belfast.
"It makes an important contribution to retailers in that area and we're keen that Connswater thrives and grows."