Belfast Telegraph

It's time for answers over cause of Primark blaze: Belfast councillor

By Claire McNeilly

Primark has been urged to make public the cause of the fire that destroyed its historic Bank Buildings store five months ago.

The August blaze, which burned for three days, was a major blow to the centre of Belfast, badly hitting businesses, and was described as the biggest crisis to face the city since the Troubles.

A number of retailers forced to close have since reopened, while a walkway has helped bring some shoppers back, but there are fears that a weak January could spell disaster for the local economy.

Councillor Jim Rodgers said that after a five-month wait it is baffling why there are still no answers as to what caused the fire.

"We need to ascertain the cause of this fire sooner rather than later and that's why I'm asking Primark to tell us what happened," he said.

"I am calling on the company to tell the public what exactly the source of the inferno was. Five months is far too long to wait for answers. Retailers and traders want to know.

"People have a right to know what caused it because businesses have gone to the wall since it happened and many are still struggling. Primark has a public responsibility to be transparent."

He added: "I welcome the £500,000 that Primark put into the city regeneration fund after the fire. Nevertheless, I'm now asking for answers to the question on everyone's lips."

Primark said "the investigation is ongoing and is being handled by the Northern Ireland Fire Service", and referred the Belfast Telegraph to NIFRS for further comment.

NIFRS said: "The investigation into the cause of the Bank Buildings fire is still ongoing. We don't have a timeframe for the conclusion of the investigation."

Figures earlier this month showed an increase of almost 40% in shopper numbers in the city centre in the last week of 2018.

The good news boosted hard-pressed traders, who battled months of disruption caused by the blaze, which forced the closure of 14 shops within a safety cordon around Primark's charred shell, while other nearby retailers saw footfall virtually disappear as people stayed away.

Shoppers returned to the city, however, after the opening of a new store at Commonwealth House in December, and after the council opened the walkway beside the fire cordon, reconnecting a main shopping thoroughfare.

The partially tunnelled walkway enabled some of the closed shops to reopen, although restrictions remain in place as Primark continues work to dismantle and make safe the historic Bank Buildings ahead of a major rebuild.

Retail NI boss Glyn Roberts also said it was time for answers surrounding the fire.

"It's important that we get to the source of the problem and find out what caused the fire because it's something that other large retailers would want to try and avoid," he said.

"Lessons must be learned. Other retailers may want to review their fire precautions going forward so I hope that information will be forthcoming. I hope we get this information sooner rather than later."

Belfast City Council said: "The council's city growth and regeneration committee has agreed that officers should continue to liaise with Primark as part of our city centre recovery programme, and bring a report back to committee on this work.

"This does not include an investigation into the cause of the fire, which would be taken forward by relevant authorities and organisations.

"This decision is subject to ratification by full council at its next meeting on Monday, March 4."

Belfast Telegraph

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