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New walkway past fire-ravaged Belfast Primark building will finally link ‘city cut in two’

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The walkway outside Primark in Belfast is due to open today

The walkway outside Primark in Belfast is due to open today

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Victoria, David and Ben Wightman

Victoria, David and Ben Wightman

David Stitt and son Thomas

David Stitt and son Thomas

Jacqueline McAllister

Jacqueline McAllister

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The walkway outside Primark in Belfast is due to open today

Some people are calling it a tunnel, others a walkway. But one thing is certain - it has to work.

That was the overriding sentiment among shoppers on the streets of Belfast yesterday as hard-hatted operatives put the finishing touches to the two covered parts of a new passageway which will - at long last - reconnect Donegall Place and Royal Avenue when it opens today.

Bookended by separate tunnels - one 20m long by 2.6m wide at McDonalds, while the other mini tunnel at Spar measures 25m x 2.6m - it will allow pedestrians to walk past fire-damaged Primark for the first time since the catastrophic blaze in August.

And traders who were badly hit by the Bank Buildings devastation are now hoping this will be a path to the normality they have been craving for months.

Up until now, the city centre has been divided by a cordon that was put up for safety reasons after the listed building was gutted following a three-day fire that started on August 28.

But this new thoroughfare, which is bolstered by weighted shipping containers, in case the blackened hulk collapses, will now reopen the all-important main arterial walkway to shoppers.

Belfast Council Chief Executive Suzanne Wylie, who was given a preview of the almost-finished project on site yesterday, told the Belfast Telegraph that the two mini tunnels will be fully lit, with CCTV installed.

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She also said that hoarding is to be erected on the containers that sit in front of the open walkway section of the passageway to make it more visually attractive to people walking by.

"It'll be great to get the walkway open and we're very optimistic about it helping to drive footfall into the city ahead of Christmas," she said.

One of the many shoppers who has welcomed the new development is Cookstown homemaker Jacqueline McAllister (50), who was having a miserable time making purchases during yesterday's downpour.

"It's a good thing they're opening it in time for Christmas," she said.

"It will make walking through Belfast city centre a lot less arduous, especially in the rain."

Belfast Uber taxi driver David Stitt, who's "in my 40s" and was shopping with his two-year-old son Thomas, said he "can't understand why it has taken so long to come up with something like this".

"This has been a long time coming," he said. "The CastleCourt side of town has been dying, while the City Hall end is booming, since the cordon went up. I hope this will go some way to redress the balance."

The Wightmans - hospital technician Victoria (28), David (29), a Translink bus driver, and their four-year-old son Ben - said they were struggling to get from one end of the city centre to the other while doing their Christmas shopping.

"I'm very glad it's opening after all this time because I've found it hard to navigate around all the shops I want to visit during one trip into the city," said the Belfast mum-of-two.

"It's also great news in the run up to Christmas. I'm a big fan of Primark and I've really missed shopping there since the fire.

"Now that we have the walkway and the reopening of Primark this Saturday it's starting to feel as though some normality is coming back to Belfast."

Her husband added: "It will make a big difference to be able to walk down the entire street rather than getting caught up in the crowds around the Cornmarket area."

Staff nurse Laura Patterson (30) and her husband Neil (35), a quality control technician, had left the comfort of their home in Killyleagh in pursuit of some Christmas shopping yesterday.

"The new walkway sounds like a really good idea, especially now that the city centre is so busy," Laura said. "We usually park outside Belfast and ride into town on our bikes but we've found that we have to get off and walk in with the bikes because there are so many people around."

Neil added: "It's a good idea to have a tunnel on either side to open up the thoroughfare, it'll make the whole shopping experience more enjoyable."

Ulster Universty graduate Ciaran Bolton (52), a civil servant who lives in Kent, said he finds it "difficult to get around" since the city centre "was cut in two". "It takes too long to walk the whole way down Lombard Street and Rosemary Street to get to CastleCourt from High Street," he said. "They could've come up with a simpler solution. Also, on a day like today, when it's pouring, I'd be concerned about pedestrians taking shelter in the mini tunnels and causing bottlenecks."


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