Revealed: Primark plans for painstaking work to restore Belfast Bank Buildings after blaze
Plans for the redevelopment of the fire-damaged Primark building in Belfast's city centre must be pushed through as quickly as possible, a councillor has said.
And if passed by Belfast City Council, the upper floors of the severely damaged Bank Buildings could be demolished and then rebuilt using the original stonework to maintain the historic facade.
The council also said it was hopeful, subject to health and safety, that pedestrian access could be restored between Donegall Place and Royal Avenue before Christmas.
A planning application was filed by the retail giant on Monday, outlining plans for maintaining the building and using removed stone and brickwork in the reconstruction.
The plan will have to be approved by Belfast City Council's planning committee later this month, with an initial consultation period now under way.
SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said the council would "move heaven and earth" to pass the application as soon as possible.
"Clearly we want to work with Primark to expedite any planning application as quickly as possible," he said.
"It's in the interest of Primark, Belfast City Council and most importantly those retailers who have been out of business."
Mr Attwood added that as the planning authority, Belfast City Council would still be bound by due process.
"Everyone on the council wants to see a resolution so we can give the business community the best possible Christmas trade this year," he said.
The most badly affected parts of the building are the original timber floors and steel beam construction, which have been completely destroyed.
However, the external structure is still standing and the application said it has shown "resilience through recent high winds and storm conditions".
It added that there is an opportunity to "restore and re-construct the building with a minimal loss of historic fabric as is practically possible to retain historic authenticity".
The demolition plan involves removing the precarious structural elements, including the chimney stacks, and reducing the height of the front section of the building down to the fourth floor.
All stonework elements will be individually marked before dismantling and then labelled once taken down to allow for reinstatement of the structure following the completion of works.
The building's clock face will also be removed for repair and reinstatement.
The document concluded that the structural damage from the fire "has been severe" and there had been a loss of a "significant portion of the internal parts of the building".
A Primark spokesman said: "The structure is a listed building of historical significance so we are committed to a conservation-led approach to preserve as much of the original building as possible. We are working with a number of stakeholders to navigate the legal and planning processes required before work on Bank Buildings can begin."
Belfast City Council said officers are immediately processing the application. "The public consultation period is now open and will run until Monday, October 22," a spokesperson said.
"Council will also consult with the Department for Infrastructure and Department for Communities (Historical Environment Division) as required by the legislation. A special meeting of council's planning committee is expected to be called by Friday, October 26 to consider next steps."
Mr Attwood said the needs of the affected businesses still needed to be addressed. "These traders pay rates and rent the same as all others and we must work to ensure the entire city centre is open for business," he said.