Belfast Telegraph

Connswater's Lidl lifeline, but Belfast City Council could block move

By John Mulgrew

The boss of Connswater shopping centre says plans for a Lidl supermarket on the struggling east Belfast site must go ahead - as fears grow that Belfast City Council will reject the new store.

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

Retail experts have highlighted their concerns over the future of Connswater, after both chains pulled out last year.

But now, Lidl has applied for permission to move into a 23,000 sq ft site close to the shopping centre.

However, it is believed planners will put forward the development for refusal to Belfast City Council planning committee on May 17.

Confirmation of the proposed rejection will be published a week before the meeting.

Connswater's general manager Gerry Monaghan told the Belfast Telegraph it was crucial the Lidl store got the go-ahead, as the centre has "been hit" and suffered a drop in footfall.

"We believe Connswater is totally different. We have lost our two main tenants, and now someone wants to double the size, invest and create jobs," he said.

"It's no secret we have been hit, and footfall is down. We need someone to give us a lift again, and we don't see any reason to turn it down."

The Connswater Traders' Association has written to politicians and planning officials urging them to support Lidl's bid.

Plans for the new Lidl store take in three units of the Connswater site, and would see it double the size of the existing store nearby.

It's understood planners have concerns over developing a new retail site, while the much larger 60,000 sq ft Tesco store, sits empty.

DUP MP for East Belfast, Gavin Robinson, has appealed to Belfast City Council planning officials to examine the case. "It is imperative that planning officers reconsider their expected recommendation to refuse this vital application," he said.

"Connswater faces unique pressures after the withdrawal of its two largest tenants and Lidl's investment will transform the fortunes of east Belfast's premier shopping centre."

Belfast City Council and Lidl did not wish to comment.

Belfast Telegraph