Job fears as B&Q looks set to close two of its Northern Ireland stores
There are fears over the future of dozens of jobs as B&Q looks set to close two of its Northern Ireland stores.
The DIY giant announced it's slashing up to 60 stores across the UK and Ireland.
That makes up 15% of the firm's 360 stores and could impact as many as 3,000 workers.
And it's understood the Boucher Road store in Belfast could be shut by January 2016, while the Buncrana Road branch in Londonderry may also face the chopping block.
B&Q currently operates 10 stores across Northern Ireland.
Parent company Kingfisher did not confirm or deny whether the stores would be closing.
It's not yet clear how many jobs will be affected, or whether staff could be relocated to other parts of the business.
Kingfisher revealed six stores elsewhere in the UK which have been confirmed will shut.
As well as the closures, some B&Q stores could also be reduced in size.
DUP MLA Jonathan Bell said: "The B&Q store on Boucher Road is a significant employer, and understandably those working there are very concerned about what the future now holds.
"Staff working at the store appear not to have been given any information other than that it will be closing in January 2016. The company must provide more clarity to staff, including whether there are any opportunities for transfers.
"I am concerned that the employees have been left in such an uncertain position.
"It is important for them to know exactly what their situation is as many start to seek alternative employment."
Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir said he was "very disappointed" at news of the expected Belfast closure.
Kingfisher said it expects to offset some of the B&Q jobs impact by opening a similar number of shops at sister business Screwfix and through redeployment.
Screwfix opened a number of stores across Northern Ireland earlier this year.
The B&Q store closures come as parent company Kingfisher announced a profits slump of 7.5% to £675m.
Sales fell by 1.4% to £11bn in the year to January 31, with performance impacted by its French business.
But B&Q UK & Ireland's total sales were up 1.9% to £3.7bn in the financial year. And profits also increased by 16%, shooting up to £276m.
Kingfisher's chief executive Veronique Laury said the job cuts and store closures were the "'first 'sharp' decisions which are already under way".
"Home improvement is a great market with huge potential and Kingfisher has a strong position within it with further scope to grow in a sustainable way," she said.
"However, it is clear to me that we need to organise ourselves very differently to unlock our potential."
Ms Laury denied that the UK DIY market was in decline, and said it had long been clear that B&Q had too many stores in its estate.