Belfast Telegraph

Council rejected Primark's plan to reduce Belfast cordon 'within weeks' - citing safety fears

By Gareth Cross

Primark have said that a proposal to reduce the cordon around businesses in Belfast city centre "within weeks" has been rejected by Belfast City Council.

A total of 14 shops have been shut since the fire as they remain within a safety cordon around the store. A number of other stores in the vicinity have complained about lost trade due to the lack of footfall in the area.

Primark filed a planning application with Belfast City Council earlier this month outlining plans for maintaining the building and using removed stone and brickwork in the reconstruction.

Belfast City Council said it was hopeful, subject to health and safety, that pedestrian access could be restored between Donegall Place and Royal Avenue before Christmas.

However Primark have now said that the cordon could have been removed much sooner if council had given their plan the go-ahead.

"On 2nd October we submitted a proposal that could have reduced the cordon within weeks, unfortunately this proposal has not been approved but we are committed to finding a solution and are working closely with the council to agree this," a Primark spokesperson said.

“We understand that the council has statutory obligations. Primark’s proposal to reduce the cordon included inputs from third party experts including structural engineers, building and monitoring specialists. The proposal was verified by these experts as a viable and safe solution.

"We are disappointed that the council has not approved our current proposal. However, we have reviewed their inputs with a view to providing additional technical information. We are ready to start work and can have a solution in place in a matter of weeks.”

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said that Primark's plan was rejected due to public safety concerns.

"Council is urgently seeking solutions to restore pedestrian access as soon as possible. In doing so, we have commissioned the advice of three separate independent structural engineers, who assessed Primark’s proposal within days of Primark’s submission," the spokesperson said. 

"All three separately recommended that the proposal to reduce the cordon did not sufficiently guarantee public safety due primarily to the instability of the upper part of the building, the potential for collapse and their assessment of the range within which debris would fall."

Council will now hold a special Planning Committee meeting on Friday October 26 to consider Primark's latest application.

"Based on the information contained in Primark’s application, council believes it is reasonable to assume that if planning consent is given and the works outlined in the application are undertaken, Castle Place is likely to be the first location where the cordon could potentially be reduced" the spokesperson said.

"We do not expect Castle Street to reopen until the façade retention system is fully in place. An engineering solution for this is currently being designed and progressed."

Primark has already made a £500,000 donation to a fund set up by council in the wake of the fire at the historic building in Castle Street.

Council is now allocating the funding among the businesses affected by the fire.

The Primark spokesperson acknowledged the lost footfall following the Primark Fire and said the retail giant were "determined to be up and trading as soon as we can".

"Bank Buildings is a listed building of historic significance to Belfast and we are committed to a conservation led approach," the spokesperson said.

"In order to start work on the building, Primark is required to undertake a specific planning process which is very complex and involves a wide range of stakeholders. We are fully engaged in this process and while it is ongoing, we are also working at full capacity on finding a way to reduce the cordon and open up the Castle Place junction."

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 also provide a home for Primark while work on Bank Buildings takes place.

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