Belfast Telegraph

Bemusement as Lidl scheme for Connswater to be rejected

By John Mulgrew

Planners have recommended that a major new Lidl supermarket to be located at the struggling Connswater shopping in east Belfast does not go ahead.

One of Northern Ireland's oldest shopping centres, Connswater has been struggling to find another big name retailer to fill the void left by its two anchor tenants, Tesco and Dunnes.

Now, plans for a 23,000 sq ft Lidl store on the Connswater site have been put forward for refusal, despite support from the centre and traders in the area.

Planners have cited a number of reasons for not giving the new development the green light.

But it is primarily down to the availability of other vacant sites which already exist, including the now empty Tesco building at Connswater.

In the planning report, it identifies a number of other possible locations, including the now vacant Dunnes Stores building at Connswater - and the empty site at the Park Centre in west Belfast - along with other areas at shopping centres such as Forestside.

The report says it has received three letters supporting the application, including one from Gavin Robinson, DUP MP for East Belfast.

The agent behind the scheme has said the new store would add 10 new jobs, alongside around £2.5m of investment.

Jolene Gibson, chairperson of the Connswater Traders' Association, said: "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."

Gerry Monaghan, Connswater general manager, said he "fails to understand why planning officials would recommend refusing this application in spite of there being no objections from residents, consultees or any other interested parties and despite a retail impact assessment concluding that there would be no adverse impact on any businesses in Belfast city centre or outlying areas".

Summing up its reasons for refusing the new centre, planners said the proposal "is contrary to the Strategic Planning Policy Statement for Northern Ireland and the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP)".

It says that's due to its "failure to comply with the requirements for sequential assessment which, if carried out, is reasonably likely to identify the availability of sequentially preferred sites within the city centre".

The BMAP retail strategy seeks to promote Belfast city centre as the leading shopping centre, and sites outside the city are controlled to protect the retail in the heart of Belfast.

The application is due to be presented to Belfast City Council's planning committee on Tuesday.

Belfast Telegraph