Northern Ireland news

Primark to pay staff at fire-hit Belfast store until end of year

Retail footfall in August increased, but there are fears that the fire at Primark in Belfast city centre could soon impact on figures. Picture by Mal McCann.
Rebecca Black, Press Association

Primark will continue to pay workers from its Belfast store until December 31, after the site was devastated by fire last month.

Around 300 people worked at the discount fashion chain in the historic Bank Buildings in the city centre, according to the company.

The front section of the building, which was being refurbished and extended at an estimated of cost of £30 million, was destroyed by a fire which broke out on Tuesday, August 28.

Some 1,500 staff and shoppers were safely evacuated from the blaze, which went on to burn for three days.

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Firefighters were able to prevent the flames spreading to an extension at the rear of the building.

It was announced on Thursday that a cordon around the building will remain in place for at least four months.

This sparked fury from other businesses who remain within the cordon and unable to trade, with some calling for the Bank Buildings to be demolished, instead of work continuing to preserve the historic facade.

A fire has broken out at the Primark building in Belfast city centre..Picture by Hugh Russell..

In a statement on Friday, Primark said it is "working very closely with the authorities to determine the best approach to reducing the size of the safety cordon as soon as feasible".

"In the immediate aftermath of the fire, we established a team of specialist engineers to advise on how to secure the structure as soon as possible," the company said in a statement.

"The priority was to remove elements that posed an immediate risk to public safety.

A cordon around Primark in Royal Avenue in Belfast will remain in place for at least four months sparking a backlash from traders. Photo by Mal McCann

"This specialist team continues to survey the building to determine its structural integrity and to inform the best next steps to reduce the cordon restrictions.

"All options are being explored for the future of the structure."

The company revealed it will continue to pay its Bank Buildings staff until the end of December.

"We can today confirm that we will be paying all Primark Bank Building colleagues until Monday 31 December 2018," the company said.

"We will be allocating individuals to other Primark stores, taking into account each team member's individual circumstances.

"We are aiming to have the team back at work from Monday 17 September. Primark is holding one-to-one discussions with colleagues to ensure that important factors such as additional travel expenses are also taken into account."

Primark also restated its commitment to Belfast.

"Since the fire Primark has been working hard to identify suitable premises for a replacement Primark store.

"Primark remains committed to our colleagues, customers and retail community in Belfast."

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce announced that it has organised a meeting with the city's four MPS - Nigel Dodds, Emma Pengelly, Gavin Robinson and Paul Maskey, to discuss the urgent issues facing retail and trade following the Primark fire.

President Rajesh Rana said: “We represent over 400 businesses in Belfast covering all sectors and as retailers and business owners we know first-hand the devastation to footfall and trade that this fire has had.

"We reiterated that a four-month cordon in the retail core of Belfast in the crucial months leading up to Christmas will have devastating consequences to the shops not only within the cordon but to the whole city.   

“We stressed the need for an urgent solution and proposed a temporary pedestrian structure to allow movement through this area.”

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