Primark blaze to cost Belfast's economy up to '£3m every month'
Belfast city centre is set to lose up to £3m a month as a result of the Primark fire, economic experts say.
The impact of the August blaze that destroyed Bank Buildings is set out in documents which also warn that part of the landmark property has an 80% chance of collapsing in the next six months.
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The information was supplied by various parties in response to a consultation for the conservation-led works on the Primark building.
The August 28 blaze, which raged for three days, has had a severe impact on the city's economy.
A safety cordon has been put in place around the building, and is expected to remain until December.
It was Belfast City Council's economic development team that laid bare the true financial impact of the inferno, estimating that the city will lose between £1m and £3m per month in the short-term as a result of the fire.
It also said that around 300 businesses were impacted and that 22 organisations within a cordon area have had to close as a result, including 14 retailers.
It added that businesses outside the cordon have seen sales levels drop by between 20% and 70%.
According to its statistics, CastleCourt is one of the biggest casualties of the fire, having seen a drop of almost 50% in footfall in September compared to the same period last year.
Meanwhile, Donegall Place has suffered a footfall drop of over 20%.
"Footfall figures are only part of the picture in illustrating the economic impact of the Primark fire on the city centre," the document says. "Supporting information from the council's car parking revenue also highlights a 12% reduction in the three weeks following the fire compared with the preceding four weeks."
And data from Translink suggests passenger numbers have fallen by 4%.
Retailers on Castle Street told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that their custom has plummeted by around 60%.
A letter to the Planning Service from Building Control suggests elements of Bank Buildings are at immediate risk of collapse, suggesting that the present safety cordon could remain in place until further notice.
According to Belfast City Council's place and economy department, conclusions were made that "a rotational collapse of the front and/or side masonry above a level of approximately 19m onto Castle Place/Royal Avenue/Castle Street/Bank Street remains a possibility".
It also said that tilt sensors placed on the building have logged lateral movements, and despite the structure weathering Storms Ali and Callum "neither of which have resulted in any collapse of the building (major or minor), there is no guarantee that a sudden collapse will not occur".
It added that some parts of the building were 29m high and "given lack of lateral restraint and the apparent damage to the masonry, there is a serious risk that a significant section of the building may fall at any time".
A separate report from the engineering consultancy Wentworth House, which was prepared for demolition and refurbishment contractors, went into more detail about potential hazards.
It said that elements above the fifth floor had a high (80%) likelihood of collapsing onto the road or building within the next six months.
This included "chimney members" which it suggested should be dismantled for removal.
Belfast City Council said it was currently fast-tracking Primark's planning proposal, which was filed at the beginning of this month. It also said that reducing the cordon and opening up access to the city centre was its priority.
It said it was working closely with Primark to consider all options to that end.
"However, due to the instability of the building, any reduction of the cordon can only happen once it is safe to do so," it added.
"The existing cordon is having a significant impact on footfall, and businesses in the area are suffering as a result. Council is urgently seeking solutions to restore pedestrian access as soon as possible..."
In a bid to prevent a further dent in footfall the council has planned a series of events and new features in the area.
The council has also allocated £500,000 to the worst-hit retailers on behalf of Primark.
It is expected that the planning committee will host a meeting next week to consider Primark's planning application.