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Abbeycentre and Primark told to shape up or face big fines


Crowds of shoppers at the Abbey Centre in Newtownabbey

Crowds of shoppers at the Abbey Centre in Newtownabbey

Crowds of shoppers at the Abbey Centre in Newtownabbey

The Abbeycentre and its Primark store were yesterday given 48 hours to comply with coronavirus regulations or face the prospect of being heavily fined or even shut down, a councillor has said.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Council issued Northern Ireland's first Improvement Notices after huge crowds of shoppers flocked to Primark at the weekend.

But it said it has also provided emergency funding for staff to ensure better social distancing, and face masks for customers.

"Our Environmental Health Team has been liaising closely with the Abbeycentre management to advise on the measures which need to be put in place to ensure the safety of the public," the council said in a statement.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

It added that "in light of the event at the weekend, and after consultation with the PSNI, the Council is issuing Improvement Notices" to Abbeycentre and its Primark store.

Primark customers were met with chaos at the Abbeycentre in Newtownabbey. A mile-long line snaked around the shopping centre, with shoppers waiting two hours to enter the shop.

While many wore face masks, there was little social distancing.

Yesterday, Phillip Brett, DUP group leader on Antrim and Newtownabbey Council, said the local authority had taken swift action.

He tweeted: "Following the scenes at Abbeycentre at the weekend @ANBorough have served an Improvement Notice upon both Abbeycentre and Primark Stores Limited, Abbeycentre. The Council will take further action if necessary to ensure compliance."

A council can issue a maximum fine of £10,000 for non-compliance with Covid regulations.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Council confirmed: "A Premises Improvement Notice can be served on a person or business where there is evidence that they are not complying with certain regulations.

"Failure to comply with the requirements constitutes an offence and on prosecution may attract a fine."

Reacting to scenes of crowds and long queues at the Primark store over the weekend, Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy yesterday urged the public to act in a safe way.

"There is a concern because the level of Covid is still much too high, and there are still people dying from Covid," he told media during a ministerial visit in Dunmurry.

"There is a time lag generally between a circuit-breaker and the effect of that, so we're hoping to see a more positive outcome.

"But of course there is a recognition that people need to be able to get out and prepare for Christmas.

"Businesses and hospitality are struggling very badly and they need to get a chance to try to make some money.

"There is also an expectation that people will behave in a certain fashion, that people will observe social distancing, sanitising and make sure that in accessing servicing and goods, shopping and hospitality, they do so in a safe way."

Mr Murphy said the Executive will meet on Thursday, and possibly also this morning to "discuss these things", as well as post-Christmas arrangements.

Primark said that the safety of customers and staff was its highest priority.

It added: "We are working in partnership with Abbeycentre management to help manage queues and ensure safety guidelines are being followed."

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