Primark just weeks away from completing work on £30m extension

 Primark's £30 million extension, as seen from Castle Street, does not appear to have been affected by yesterday's fire. Picture by Gary McDonald 
Gary McDonald Business Editor

PRIMARK was just weeks away from opening what would have been its fifth biggest store in the UK.

Work was nearing completion on a £30 million revamp of the iconic store to add 30,000 sq ft of shopping space, bringing the total retail space to 85,000 sq ft and creating more than 100 jobs.

Primark (which is known as Penneys in the Republic), is a subsidiary of Associated British Foods (ABF), which is controlled by the Weston family who also own Selfridges, Brown Thomas and Arnotts.

It has operated in Belfast's Castle Place since 1979 and had a daily footfall of customers running into the tens of thousands - thought to be the biggest footfall of any single retail unit in Northern Ireland.

Around 500 full- and part-time staff were employed at the store, and it is understood around 150 workers were in the shop when the fire alarms sounded at shortly after 11am.

The project to revamp the Belfast store (one of 350 Primarks in the world and 180 in the UK) began in August 2016.

It involved the demolition of Commonwealth House and development of a new six-storey retail building providing a refurbished extension to the existing building.

It also forced the implementation of a one-way traffic system in the direction of Castle Street towards Castle Junction.

 The Primark extension looks unscathed from Bank Square. Picture by Gary McDonald 

 The Primark extension looks relatively unscathed the day after the fire. Picture by Gary McDonald

Scene of the ongoing work on the £30 million extension before Tuesday's fire took hold

Flames engulf the Primark store in Belfast city centre


Work on the scheme has been undertaken by Bennett Construction, an international family-owned construction services company founded in 1917 in Mullingar and with offices and projects in Dublin, London and Germany.

The historically-important Bank Buildings on Castle Street in which Primark was housed were designed by Sir Robert Taylor and built by Waddell Cunningham in 1785 using red Dumfries sandstone.

Joan McCoy, president of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects, said: "Buildings like these help give Belfast its unique identity and character. The Bank Building is a very important part of the city's architectural heritage and is loved by many.

"This building has survived bombs and fire before. We can only hope that the damage is not too severe and that the building can be saved."

Cartoonist Ian Knox on the fire in a Primark store which destroyed Belfast's iconic Bank Buildings


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