The Hillview site is off the Crumlin Road in north Belfast
Connla Young

NATIONALIST politicians have reacted angrily a council planning committee backed controversial plans for a retail only development in north Belfast.

Housing campaigners had wanted to provide social housing on the site of a former Dunnes Stores in north Belfast.

Hillview Centre Belfast Ltd wants to develop Hillview Retail Park, which is off the Crumlin Road, as a commercial site despite calls for social housing to be provided.

The previous anchor tenant Dunnes Stores, left in 2007.

Proposals to build new retail units, a car showroom and drive-through restaurant and café on the site were approved at a meeting of Belfast City Council's planning committee on Tuesday.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP had voiced concerns about the plan in advance of the meeting.

Campaigners say north Belfast is currently facing a chronic housing shortage and had wanted to develop homes on the site.

Sinn Féin housing spokeswoman and north Belfast MLA Carál Ní Chuilín has already asked the Housing Executive to vest the site and bring it “into public usage”.

“This is an area ranking high on deprivation indices and public bodies have a duty to invest in communities and not leave development of a site like this to the private sector alone,” she said.

SDLP councillor Paul McCusker said the wrong decision was reached was "the wrong one".

Belfast Before Profit councillor Matt Collins also criticised the decision.

North Belfast DUP assembly member William Humphrey welcomed the proposal which was passed by seven votes to six.

"We will continue to work with the developer to support this investment and the attraction of employers to this significant retail park,” he said.

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