Leading article

Businesses will need support in aftermath of Primark blaze

As the investigation into the cause of the fire at the Primark store continues and engineers assess the damage to the historic building, it is clear that the blaze will have far-reaching implications for a number of businesses and the economy of Belfast city centre.

The cordon around the smouldering shell of the Bank Buildings was further reduced yesterday, allowing more businesses to reopen following Tuesday's devastating inferno.

However, there is no doubt that the impact on premises in the immediate vicinity of Primark, including Castle Street and Royal Avenue, will be felt for longer than many had hoped.

Every day those shops, restaurants and offices are closed represents a considerable loss in income, and will be particularly felt by the small, independent businesses in the area.

It is essential efforts are made to minimise the financial cost to these traders, who need to be given every support to protect jobs and livelihoods.

Ratepayers may be eligible for the hardship relief scheme, which is intended to help businesses recover from a temporary crisis as a result of exceptional circumstances.

Traders must be provided with all necessary information about this scheme and any other support which may be available at this difficult time.

Belfast Chamber of Commerce is also compiling a list of vacant premises which businesses may be able to relocate to while there is restricted access to the immediate area.

It is too early to say if the ruined building can be saved and while there is any risk of collapse then some form of safety exclusion zone around the site will have to be maintained.

It has to be accepted that the authorities are dealing with an exceptionally challenging set of circumstances but hopefully there will be more definite news in the coming days which will allow businesses and staff to put plans in place for the short term at least.

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