Suffering Belfast traders in call for end to Bank Buildings blaze cordon
Businesses could go to the wall if the safety cordon around Primark's burnt-out Bank Buildings isn't removed, it has been claimed.
The stark warning comes after Belfast Chamber of Commerce, Hospitality Ulster and Retail NI jointly met with the head of the Civil Service, the permanent secretaries of the Executive and Belfast City Council yesterday to discuss further Government action to support the city centre in the aftermath of last month's blaze.
The devastating fire tore through the landmark five-storey building on August 28 and the financial toll of its disruption to normal trade continues to rise.
Earlier this week two retailers located beside the cordon on Royal Avenue told how they have had to slash staff levels in half and cut back trading times during the week and at weekends due to lack of customers.
In a joint statement, Rajesh Rana, president of Belfast Chamber, Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts and Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said it was time to reconsider the cordon.
"We welcome the investment Primark, Belfast City Council (BCC) and Department for Communities (DfC) have made in the City Recovery Fund and the work that BCC has done to date," they said.
"However, the priority now is to get the cordon reduced to allow pedestrian flow to resume across all the affected streets.
"We and our members who make up the majority of businesses in the retail core and beyond, are extremely frustrated there is still no firm plan for doing this."
The organisations said any delay in reducing the cordon beyond October would be seriously detrimental to the Christmas trading period and businesses' long-term viability.
While they described meetings with Secretary of State Karen Bradley, the council and senior civil servants as "helpful", all three bodies stressed that "no concrete plans have been put in place".
"The decision to move this forward lies with Primark and we understand that some form of application is planned for next week," they said.
"We call for the process of making an application and the decision process to be as quick as possible, and for the cordon to be reduced in the very near future."
Putting a figure of "hundreds of millions of pounds" so far on the overall economic impact of the fire, they said: "Every day there is a delay, this increases further. We call on Primark and all stakeholders to bear in mind the need to come to the fastest resolution and to work to a date of end of October at the latest."
Primark said: "Bank Buildings is a listed building of historical significance to Belfast. In its current state, the building is structurally unsound and poses a significant threat to health and safety.
"Currently the protective cordon around the building is under the authority of the City Council.
"Primark has submitted a structural report which is being assessed by Building Control and Planning at City Council.
"There is a legally mandated process that Primark has to follow in relation to Bank Buildings. Primark cannot do any works to the building without the necessary consent; to do otherwise is a criminal offence."