Footfall in Belfast city centre drops by third after Primark blaze
Footfall in Belfast city centre's shops has crashed by almost a third after the devastating fire at Primark's flagship store, according to a survey today.
A retail boss has urged the public to shop in the city coming up to Christmas after the report from information body Springboard showed a 30% drop in footfall in September.
Today's report gives the first official insight into the impact on the retail economy of the Bank Buildings blaze, which raged for three days in August.
A total of 14 shops have been shut since the fire as they remain within a safety cordon around the store. But stores just outside the cordon in locations like Castle Street have reported a fall in trade of 90%.
And Springboard's research found that even shopping areas far removed from the cordon were reporting a fall of around 10% or 15%.
The figures are bad news for the retail sector, which has seen the collapse of various shops from fashion chain Coast to Toys R Us as they struggle with a consumer squeeze from rising inflation, and the popularity of online shopping.
Springboard and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) said footfall had "crashed" across Northern Ireland as the impact of the Primark fire on August 28 affected the region-wide figures.
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NIRC boss Aodhan Connolly called for Chancellor Philip Hammond to help retailers in Belfast in his Budget this month.
He said: "This drastic dip in shopper footfall after two good months comes directly on the back of the fire that affected Primark's flagship store in Belfast city centre, Northern Ireland's main retail destination. This sad occurrence has effectively split Belfast's busiest thoroughfare, and the city centre, in two.
"This is distressing not only for Primark and the 14 businesses within the cordon who cannot open, but also those in the locale who are affected by the footfall drop, and their suppliers."
The Springboard report said footfall was down 4.6% across Northern Ireland - worse than an average 1.7% decline over the last three months and the 12-month average of 1.9%. Retail park and high street footfall was down 6%, although the drop in shopping centre footfall slowed to 0.2% from 2.4% in August.
Belfast City Council has responded to the fire by announcing how it will spend a donation of £500,000 from Primark to help shops within the cordon and outside its immediate area. Around 90 businesses are eligible to apply for help from the fund.
Primark has also lodged a planning application to carry out work on the listed building.
Mr Connolly said: "Both Primark and Belfast City Council have shown leadership and concern with support for traders and the area, but now we need the Chancellor in his forthcoming budget to make a tangible difference, not only to Belfast but to the whole retail industry in this current time of structural change.
"Most of all I want to reiterate our message to consumers which has been constant throughout this episode.
"Belfast city centre is open for business and the traders need your support. With the crucial Christmas season fast approaching, now more than ever we need you to spend your time and money in our stores."
Primark has been linked to the purchase of Fountain House at nearby Donegall Place, which is currently occupied by fashion retailer New Look. Fountain House could provide a home for Primark while work on Bank Buildings takes place.