Fire-damaged Primark store to reopen next month

Belfast’s landmark Primark store will reopen next month after a devastating blaze which plunged traders in the city into crisis.

Up to 10 shops could open their doors again by December 8 as retailers recover from major disruption caused by the fire.

Work is ongoing to brace Primark’s historic Bank Buildings structure, which was destroyed by flames in August, against collapse.

Joe O’Connor from the clothing department store is overseeing the restoration effort and said: “Basically the building is hanging in the breeze.”

Many retailers beside Primark were forced to relocate because the distinctive sandstone structure could collapse.

Pedestrian access to a previously off-limits part of the city in the shadow of the currently unsafe building is expected to be restored in the coming weeks once support structures are put in place.

A total of 10 shops within the safety cordon which were forced to close will be free to welcome customers again by December 8.

Neale Kirk, Primark area manager for Northern Ireland, said: “The store at the rear will open on December 8 at 9am.”

It is a part of the building, a new extension at the back, which suffered interior damage but the structure survived intact.

Refitting work has been ongoing for weeks.

Mr Kirk added: “Returning into Belfast has been well received by our staff and customers will like that.

“It will help restore footfall to the immediate area.”

Four floors will open and all departments will be represented at the 26,700 square foot shop, with normal opening hours.

Access will only initially be possible via Castle Street, from the west side of the city centre.

A further nine other stores including jewellery shop Argento and McDonalds can potentially reopen on December 8, as a special 35 metre pedestrian walkway will link the main shopping thoroughfare of Royal Avenue with Donegall Place.

The area will be freed up to traffic and all surrounding stores free to reopen by Easter, Belfast City Council said.

The Chancellor has allocated £2 million to help the recovery.

The blaze has left 14 businesses unable to trade. Compensation money has been distributed.

Earlier this month, it emerged the fire had caused a 30% drop in footfall in the city centre.

A Belfast City Council report has found a reduction of almost 50% in some areas close to Bank Buildings.