Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Primark shows Belfast city has plenty of fight

'The charred remains of this historic building were a reminder of a wider malaise affecting city centre businesses'
'The charred remains of this historic building were a reminder of a wider malaise affecting city centre businesses'

Editor's Viewpoint

As we reveal today, the disastrous fire which virtually demolished the Bank Buildings in Belfast a year ago on Wednesday has already cost its tenant Primark and other city centre businesses around £100m in lost revenue and rebuilding costs.

The blaze burned for three days and affected dozens of nearby businesses, whether by smoke damage directly, or indirectly by the widespread disruption caused by the necessary cordon which was erected around the burnt-out shell.

Not since the security cordons of the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s had Belfast witnessed such disruption to pedestrians and vehicles.

The charred remains of this historic building were a reminder of a wider malaise affecting city centre businesses. This included fewer customers, increasing business rates, and traders closing. Happily the new Bank Buildings which is slowly rising Phoenix-like from the ashes is a striking symbol of hope for the future.

However, it would be unwise to sugar-coat the problems still facing the retail sector. These are real and serious, but the proposal put forward to the planners last week by Primark seems like a breath of fresh air.

The plans for the restoration of the damaged flagship store include re-instating the upper-floor structures from the Bank Street, Royal Avenue and Castle Street facades and a wall dating only to the 1970s on Bank Street.

The public's very evident horror at the Bank Buildings calamity was not just confined to looking for another retailer for smart, affordable clothing. There was a deep desire to restore one of the historic icons of the city as soon as possible.

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The grade B1 building dates from the 1780s, and was originally a bank before becoming the residence of the Bishop of Down and Connor. This unique structure was a constant in the lives of all who passed through Belfast, and it became a regular meeting point for people.

Economist John Simpson is currently downbeat about the future of city centre trading and claims that the best place for retailers is in the suburbs.

However, Belfast is a resilient city, which has survived many worse setbacks, including the horrific damage throughout the Troubles, and the German blitz on Easter Tuesday April 15, 1941 when at least 900 people died.

With respect to Mr Simpson, this newspaper has a sunnier disposition. As Kevin Kostner's heroic character Ray Kinsella says in the film Field of Dreams - "If you build it, he will come", which is more commonly rendered as "If you build it, they will come".

Belfast's vibrant history dates back to the Bronze Age. It is a very long play in five acts and not just one. And we are not even at the interval yet.

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