Belfast Telegraph

Primark Bank Buildings: Too early to say what can be done with shell of historic structure, says Lord Mayor

Councillor rejects concern preserving heritage is priority over reopening area

By Jonathan Bell

Belfast Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey has said the sustainability of the city's business and keeping people in work was vital in the wake of the devastating fire at Primark's Bank Buildings.

She was speaking after traders vented their frustration and anger after they were told a safety exclusion zone was to remain in place around the building for at least four months.

Fourteen businesses have been closed with many more saying takings are significantly down and there is real concern it will lead to closures as the busy Christmas period looms.

There is a feeling among businesses the preservation of the historic Bank Buildings is of a priority over reopening an area considered the heart of the city.

"Absolutely not," the Lord Mayor told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We are pushing hard to get the exclusion zone reduced as soon as possible but public safety has to come first.

"I am no structural engineer but from what we have been told we are not even at the point of knowing what the options are as the building is unsafe. Even if demolition was an option people would have to get into the building to arrange for that and that can't happen at the minute.

"We have looked at what has happened in other cities and what they have done and it can be a long and arduous process.

"It is too early to say what we can and can not do. But we wanted to be upfront with the people of Belfast as much as possible."

The Sinn Fein councillor said she and the council acknowledged the anger and frustration felt by businesses and they would be continuing to push Primark on the matter.

She said the council was considering a large marketing campaign in order to try and drive people into the city.

"Sustainability is vital. The key has to be keeping people in work and that is the council's long term priority. I am acutely aware we are potentially talking hundreds of jobs - many of them low-paid - and people's livelihoods.

"I would love if we can retain the heritage of the city but we can't at the cost of putting people out of work."

Fire devastated the Primark shop last week taking tree days to extinguish. The retailer has said it is committed to the city and exploring options to getting back in business as soon as possible.

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