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Primark proposal to reduce Belfast city centre cordon 'within weeks' rejected as unsafe by council

An artist sketches the aftermath of the fire at the Bank Buildings in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

A PROPOSAL by Primark that would have reduced, "within weeks", the cordon around its stricken Bank Buildings premises - which is blamed for the collapse of city centre footfall - has been rejected by Belfast City Council.

The company insisted yesterday it is "determined to be up and trading as soon as we can", after the fire at its flagship Castle Place store was blamed for a fall of 30 per cent in the number of people visiting the city centre.

"In order to start work on the building, Primark is required to undertake a specific planning process which is very complex and involves a wide range of stakeholders," it said in a statement.

"We are fully engaged in this process and while it is ongoing, we are also working at full capacity on finding a way to reduce the cordon and open up the Castle Place junction.

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"On October 2 we submitted a proposal that could have reduced the cordon within weeks, unfortunately this proposal has not been approved but we are committed to finding a solution and are working closely with the council to agree this."

The council insisted Primark's proposal would have been unsafe.

"Council is urgently seeking solutions to restore pedestrian access as soon as possible," a spokeswoman said.

The Primark cordon has hit trade in Belfast city centre. Picture by Hugh Russell.

"In doing so, we have commissioned the advice of three separate independent structural engineers, who assessed Primark's proposal within days of Primark's submission.

"All three separately recommended that the proposal to reduce the cordon did not sufficiently guarantee public safety due primarily to the instability of the upper part of the building, the potential for collapse and their assessment of the range within which debris would fall."

The council is considering a listed building consent consent application from Primark, which proposes "the taking down, recording and assessment for restoration purposes of the building above the fourth floor cornice line... for off-site storage".

Primark, which made a £500,000 donation to Belfast City Council's City Recovery Investment Programme following the fire, submitted its listed building consent application on October 5 and public consultation ends on Monday.

A special meeting of the council's planning committee will be called to consider it before next Friday.

"Council believes it is reasonable to assume that if planning consent is given and the works outlined in the application are undertaken, Castle Place is likely to be the first location where the cordon could potentially be reduced," a spokeswoman said.

"We do not expect Castle Street to reopen until the façade retention system is fully in place. An engineering solution for this is currently being designed and progressed."

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