Northern Ireland news

Construction firm still silent on Belfast Primark fire

Fire crews at the Primark store in Belfast city centre. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

A CONSTRUCTION firm which was leading redevelopment works at Primark in Belfast city centre has yet to comment on the devastating blaze that gutted the historic building.

Bennett Construction was carrying out a £30 million extension and refurbishment which was weeks away from completion when the fire tore through Bank Buildings on Tuesday.

An exclusion zone remained in place yesterday and a fire engine was stationed at the scene as a "precautionary measure" as investigations continued into the cause of the blaze.

It is suspected the fire was connected to work being carried out on the roof as part of the redevelopment. However, fire officials said they are examining "all areas to determine the cause".

The 30,000 sq ft extension, which escaped unscathed from the blaze, was being added to the rear of the building and was due to make it Primark's fifth biggest store in the UK.

The project to revamp the Belfast store began in August 2016, and involved the demolition of Commonwealth House to allow for the extension to the existing building.

Work on the scheme was being 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.

For several days Bennett Construction has been asked for a comment on the fire, but last night the contractor had yet to issue any statement.

More than 350 people worked at the Primark store, which on Tuesday became the scene of one of the biggest fires witnessed in the city in years.

The cordon surrounding the building is expected to continue for some time amid fears that the five-storey structure could still collapse.

If the iconic sandstone facade remains intact, some architecture conservation experts have warned that it could take up to five years to restore.

Multi-agency meetings hosted by Belfast City Council are due to continue in the days ahead to help provide businesses and others affected with updated information.

In a statement yesterday, Belfast City Council's strategic policy and resources committee said making the building and surrounding area safe remains a "key priority".

"Belfast City Council will continue to host meetings for key holders and businesses to provide information and support in the days ahead," it said.

"Council officers are also in close daily contact with businesses in the immediate area of the fire to offer whatever support they can to ensure they can continue to operate.

"We are liaising with representatives from Primark to assist in any way we can, for example should they wish to seek alternative accommodation within the city centre."

It added: "Members of the strategic policy and resources committee agree it is important that as a city, we continue to rally round to support those affected by this devastating event."

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