Primark has confirmed it plans to open two new stores in Belfast city centre, with the first commencing trading on December 8.
Little more than three months after fire devastated its Bank Buildings flagship shop, the clothing retailer will open in its newly built extension unit at Castle Street just over a fortnight before Christmas.
Work had been at an advanced stage at Commonwealth House when flames broke out in the adjacent building on August 28.
The cordon thrown around the charred remains of Bank Buildings has forced 22 organisations to close. According to Belfast City Council, the impact on footfall is costing the city centre up to £3m a month.
The council has said £6m will be needed to support the city centre until the end of March. But that fund is currently £1.5m short.
The opening of Commonwealth House in early next month will coincide with a new access tunnel allowing pedestrians to walk along the front of Bank Buildings from Donegall Place to Royal Avenue.
Primark has also confirmed that it is working towards opening a second store in Donegall Place in the spring. The unit is currently occupied by fashion chain New Look, which has 26 stores here, including six in Belfast.
Land Registry documents obtained by the Belfast Telegraph last month confirmed that Primark entered into a contract to purchase Fountain House on September 20.
Despite initially refusing to comment on the move, this newspaper now understands that New Look will be vacating the building and is currently searching for another the city centre unit.
While the exit date has yet to be confirmed, the plan to relocate has offered some hope to the 60 employees based in Donegall Place.
It had been reported that New Look would cease trading in early November, allowing Primark to open two stores in time for Christmas. But Primark appears to have pushed the date back to early 2019, suggesting that New Look will have more time to fina new location.
Primark said: "Primark is committed to Belfast and we announced recently that we plan to open a store in Commonwealth House in December.
"In addition, we are hoping to open a new store in Fountain House in spring 2019. We will share more details in due course."
Reacting yesterday, SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said: "This news is an extremely welcome development for the city and especially for the Primark staff who have been commuting to other stores across Northern Ireland since the blaze destroyed the Bank Buildings, which was home to Primark's flagship Belfast store, at the end of August."