Connswater Traders’ Association has written to politicians and planning officials urging them to support a bid by Lidl to open an expanded store on the site.
With a planning decision due to be published next week on the year-long application, Association Chair, Jolene Gibson and Connswater General Manager Gerry Monaghan are appealing for help to secure the East Belfast shopping centre and retail park’s future.
Lidl has applied for permission to move into a 23,000 square foot site close to the shopping centre but it is believed that planners will recommend refusal to Belfast City Council Planning Committee.
Belfast City Council’s Planning Committee is due to meet on May 17 and a delegation from Connswater Traders’ Association is expected to attend to make their views known.
Ms Gibson said: “The traders have been affected by the closure of Tesco’s and Dunnes and this proposed expansion by Lidl was seen as a ray of light, bringing much-needed jobs and investment. We can see no justification for this application being refused.”
Connswater was thrown into turmoil last January when Tesco’s announced it was pulling out in April 2015. This was followed by Dunnes Stores also leaving the centre in February 2015.
Connswater was left without a food retail outlet but the outlook appeared brighter when Lidl applied in April 2015 to move to a site close to the centre which would more than double its retail space.
It is believed that the planners want Lidl to move into the unoccupied Tesco’s site but this is not available and there is no history of Lidl ever moving into a shopping centre.
Furthermore there have been no objections from residents, consultees or any other interested parties to the application.
Gerry Monaghan appealed to the planners to reconsider their recommendation for refusal: “We desperately need a major food retailer and Lidl fills this fundamental gap. A new expanded store would lead to around 40 new jobs, increased footfall and the very real possibility of other businesses locating in the shopping centre and retail park.
“At a time when East Belfast has been hit by the loss of 1100 jobs at Bombardier and a further job losses due to the closure of Tescos and Dunnes, there is no logic to refusing this application,” he added.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson appealed to Belfast City Council planning officials to view Connswater as a special case.
He said: “It is imperative that planning officers reconsider their expected recommendation to refuse this vital application. 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.”