Primark to donate £500,000 to Belfast as "gesture of goodwill" to help city recover following fire
A GENEROUS £500,000 donation by Primark to help support businesses affected by a fire at its flagship Belfast city centre store has been described as a "morale booster" for beleaguered traders.
The fashion chain said yesterday that it is "committed to supporting the business community" in the wake of the devastating fire which last month gutted Bank Buildings in the city centre.
It also said that it also hoped to be "back up and trading again as soon possible".
Welcoming the donation last night Belfast City Council said more details would become available to businesses in the coming days about how and when they could access the funding.
It said the funding would contribute to the wider City Recovery Investment Fund, which the council is currently setting up.
It is three weeks since the Bank Buildings store was destroyed in a fire. A cordon remains in place around Castle Junction and is set to remain into the new year including during the busy Christmas shopping period.
The decision has caused anger among traders, especially those within the cordon - a total of 14 businesses - who are unable to trade while the barrier remains in place.
Traders outside the cordon - who are not covered by insurance - have also voiced concerns amid reports that footfall in the city has dramatically fallen following the fire.
Yesterday, Primark revealed that it is planning to make a £500,000 donation to the council's city centre recovery programme.
A spokesman for the fashion brand said: "Following the devastating fire at Bank Buildings, Primark has been focused on the welfare of our colleagues, while also working with the authorities regarding our on-going commitment to businesses and the wider community in Belfast.
"It is our intention to be back up and trading again as soon possible. As you can appreciate, we are at the early stages on this and will confirm details as soon as possible. We hope that this will assist the on-going efforts to drive footfall into the city centre".
The spokesman added: "As well as re-establishing a high street presence in the city, Primark is committed to supporting the business community affected by the fire.
"Primark will be donating £500,000 to Belfast City Council's recovery programme as a gesture of goodwill. The council will manage the distribution of the recovery fund to those local businesses impacted by the fire.
"As we progress our plans, we will continue to work with the authorities in Belfast. We would like to thank people once again for their on-going support".
Aodhán Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, welcomed the donation, describing it as "more than a mere gesture by Primark, it shows genuine concern for their neighbour traders and the surrounding areas".
"They have put their money where their mouth is and this will make a huge tangible difference," he said.
In a joint statement, Rajesh Rana, President of Belfast Chamber of Commerce, Glyn Roberts, CEO of Retail NI and Colin Neill,chief executive of Hospitality Ulster said they were "pleased that Primark listened to our call to contribute to the recovery fund and we welcome this donation of £500k".
The group also urged government departments and the UK Treasury to step forward and make "a sizeable contribution" to the city centre renewal fund.
"Many of the Castle Street traders and other businesses in the city centre are experiencing huge reductions in trade and footfall. Over a thousand jobs and dozens of businesses are at risk unless we see immediate action".
The contribution was welcomed by politicians including West Belfast MP Paul Maskey.
“There is still a long way to go but I am optimistic that if the city continues to work together that we can look forward to a return to normality sooner rather than later.
The UUP's economy spokesman Alan Chambers said:
“If ever a group of people deserved a morale booster at the present time it is the Belfast city centre traders...I hope that this donation will lift the spirits of traders coming to terms with either a complete temporary closure of their premises, or falling trade resulting from greatly reduced footfall."
Belfast DUP MPs, Nigel Dodds, Emma Little Pengelly and Gavin Robinson also welcomed the donation adding that it is "important that efforts continue to reduce" the cordon as quickly as possible and allow business to return to normality.