Belfast Telegraph

Just like it used to be... how gutted Primark will look after Belfast restoration

CGI image of the new re-developments on the Primark Building
CGI image of the new re-developments on the Primark Building
CGI of the fire damage

By Caitriona McBride

The restoration of Belfast's Primark Bank Buildings has been recommended for approval by Belfast City Council planners.

They have recommended that the redevelopment and restoration of the historic building in Belfast city centre be approved by the council's planning committee next week.

The application seeks to restore the grade B1-listed landmark, which was built between 1880 and 1899, in its totality.

It is hoped the proposed works will restore the building and result in a considerably larger store than the one currently open in Castle Street.

The proposal is virtually a like-for-like restoration.

Proposed conservation-led works include the reinstatement of the upper floor structures from Bank Street, Royal Avenue and Castle Street facades and the 1970s wall on Bank Street. The discount retailer is also seeking to add a cafe.

A fire engulfed the historic Bank Buildings on Royal Avenue, which housed Primark's flagship Belfast store, in August last year and burned for three days.

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The fire caused severe damage and a significant proportion of the internal structure was destroyed. The external facades were also damaged.

The building has been subject to an ongoing stabilisation strategy since the fire.

It was estimated that £20m was lost to the city centre economy as the fire's ripple effect had a devastating impact on Belfast's main shopping street, and Primark themselves were estimated to have lost £75m.

Bank Buildings is a multi-bay classically styled five storey building finished in red sandstone and polished granite. It was designed by William Henry Lynn and was constructed between 1880 and 1899. It became a listed building in 1980 and is located within the Belfast City Centre Conservation Area.

Nicola McVeigh, chief executive of the Ulster Architectural Heritage, yesterday welcomed the recommendation to approve the plans.

"Subsequent to the blaze that threatened its future, the building has now rightfully been recognised as a linchpin in the city's identity and economy," she said.

"It is a building that the city, its authorities, residents and its owners, Primark, want to protect. The public interest the retention of bank buildings generated, demonstrates that the historic environment in Belfast is a highly appreciated asset, in the context of past and future place-making.

"Bank Buildings' retention, and the survival of other buildings across the city, assures the continuation of Belfast City Centre's signature historic identity, as a place where people would want to live, visit and invest.

"We are pleased to see the full reinstatement of principal facades, which, together with appropriate and sympathetic additions assures the best outcomes for future commercial use and conservation."

She added: "Unfortunately, Belfast does not always treat heritage with such delicacy and respect, as illustrated by numerous development proposals currently under consideration, particularly for the areas of Cathedral Quarter and Queen Street Conservation Areas."

In the aftermath of the inferno, Primark opened a store on Castle Street, which started trading in December 2018, just in time for the bumper Christmas shopping trading period.

The popular retailer then opened a second city centre store in Fountain House, Donegall Place earlier this year.

When the restoration works are completed the existing cordon will be removed and full pedestrian and cycle access will be restored for that area.

Belfast Telegraph