Traders concerned at news that Primark cordon is to remain in place through Christmas shopping period
TRADERS hit out last night after it was revealed that a cordon around Primark in Belfast city centre would remain in place throughout Christmas.
A blaze burned for three days at the retailer's flagship store in Bank Buildings last week.
Fourteen businesses are unable to trade as they are within a safety exclusion zone established amid fears the blackened structure could collapse.
The news was delivered during a meeting with traders at Belfast City Council officials at city hall.
The council said that over the coming days engineers would be "assessing the site" before drawing up a plan for next steps which could include putting a protect brace around the building to determine if the listed facade can be saved.
Mayor Deirdre Hargey said the council is continuing to look at ways to "revive this part of the city centre in the wake of the fire".
"As well as erecting signage to encourage and direct footfall, council along with other agencies and government departments are working together to find alternative premises for businesses and arranging initiatives for affected traders to provide advice in respect of rates and employability.
"Belfast City Council and its city partners is also planning a campaign aimed at sustaining visitors to the city and supporting retailers to run over the next four months".
However Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of Retail NI, described the development as "concerning".
"I'm well aware how much businesses in the cordon are suffering," he said.
"Businesses outside the cordon are also suffering from a lack of footfall. We need a major campaign to encourage people back into the city centre and it needs government at every level."
He added: "It is a serious problem to address in the run-up to Christmas. There are hundreds of jobs at risk. It does require urgent action".
Rajesh Rana, President of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce described the four month cordon as "totally unacceptable".
He urged both the council and Primark to find "an urgent alternative to the cordon to allow pedestrians to access the area safely".
"Some kind of temporary structure through the area is one idea we have put to them," Mr Rana said.
"Footfall is already down and some of our members are reporting a serious decline in takings over the past seven days.
"We as a chamber are doing everything within our power to help the traders find alternatives premises to allow them to reopen as soon as possible.
"We are also lobbying the Land and Property Services to get rates reduced for businesses who cannot open or will have to move temporarily.
"Belfast needs the support of everyone if the businesses affected are to survive."
Traders also voiced their concerns.
Kathleen McGovern, who owns Abacus Beads, which has been based in Castle Street inside the cordon, said she was in the process of looking for new premises adding there was "a lot of anger" among traders about the cordon.
Arthur McAnerney, co-owner of City Picnic, which is also within the Castle Street cordon, said it would be "catastrophic for the business".
" It's a disaster for the business. It's a serious knock," he said.
Mr McAnerney said, with the cordon remaining for at least four months, he too was looking at "relocating" within the city centre.
Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said it was "simply devastating" that the cordon would be in place for so long.
He said the move would be "make or break for some retailers".
"We need the cordon lifted, access to shops and for consumers to keep coming back to the city centre. Belfast is still open for business".
A spokesman for McDonald's meanwhile said city centre staff affected by the cordon have been offered the opportunity to relocate to other restaurants in and around Belfast.
"We would also like to thank our Donegall Place employees who have responded so well during this challenging time. We look forward to welcoming customers back to the restaurant when it reopens.”