Belfast council commits £1.25m to boost city centre after Primark fire

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Belfast city councillors have agreed to invest £1.25 million to help the city centre recover following a major fire.

The blaze which gutted Primark’s historic Bank Buildings property last month has caused significant disruption in the city centre.

A large cordon erected round the charred shell of the store is expected to remain in place for months amid uncertainty over whether it, or parts of it, can be saved.

Several businesses within the safety zone have been forced to shut, while others have seen footfall badly affected by the cordon that blocks off several central thoroughfares.

Belfast fire
A cordon around the historic five-storey Bank Buildings (PA)

With fears the cordon could still be in place during the pre-Christmas shopping period, many traders are facing a bleak short-term future.

Some businesses have called for the building to be pulled down immediately to mitigate the economic impact.

However, it is understood any demolition project would be significantly complicated by safety concerns around the huge structure.

As the Bank Buildings is a listed site, pulling it down would also be unlawful without definitive evidence it cannot be saved.

Architectural campaigners could potentially challenge any move to demolish it in the courts.

The money announced by the council is in addition to £500,000 donated by Primark to support Belfast traders.

On Friday, members of the council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee agreed a £1.25 million support package for the recovery of the city centre.

Committee chairman Jim Rodgers said the council wants to help traders get back to business as usual.

“The scale of this disaster has had an immediate and profound impact on Belfast city centre and has left us facing huge challenges in the weeks and months ahead,” he said.

“We are determined as a council to lead this recovery operation and offer our business community all the support it needs to get back to business as usual, and to support those traders who, while outside the cordon, are also suffering a reduction in footfall and sales.”

The city recovery programme put in place by Belfast City Council is planned to run into 2019, focusing on Christmas trading and beyond.

It will provide targeted support for severely affected businesses.

It will also invest in the city to improve connections and make key streets and thoroughfares attractive. The programme will fund opportunities to increase footfall to key streets, so that closed-off areas created by the cordon are attractive destinations.

Members of the committee were also told that Storm Ali earlier this week caused further damage to the building.

“Recent high winds caused by Storm Ali resulted in an internal steel beam falling and loose debris was blown off the building,” the council said in a statement.

“The debris fell within the cordon and the cordon remains intact.

“The greatest concerns are around the stability of the chimneys and clock tower and the upper floor.

“Significant expert assessment of the building is ongoing, and members were reminded there is no quick fix.

“Given the precarious nature/level of instability of the building this remains a difficult process.

“This continues to be a complex engineering challenge no matter which solution is agreed.

“The focus remains on getting a final solution agreed and getting our city centre back to normal as soon as is physically possible.”

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