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Welcome news from Primark

BELFAST received some good news yesterday when it was announced that the city council has approved an application for a 'conservation led' plan to restore the Bank Buildings which was destroyed by fire in August.

Since the damage to the iconic structure, the home of Primark, trading in the city has been severely hit. A cordon around the site of the fire has severely restricted pedestrian access, meaning 14 businesses have not been able to trade. It has been estimated that the city centre has seen a 30 per cent reduction in footfall, rising to 50 per cent in areas near the fire scene.

This represents a huge financial hit to traders. This news will come as some welcome relief to them.

Yesterday's announcement by the council was followed by a statement from Primark which would indicate that the shop could have a city centre presence by the start of December.

An extension to the old building was saved from destruction and it is planned that the temporary business will be carried on in those Castle Street premises until the original shop has been rebuilt.

Other businesses in the area will no doubt be pleased that work will start 'immediately' and that there are plans for a 'temporary designed walkway' to re-establish a link between Royal Avenue and Donegall Place.

Key to all this work would seem to be the demolition of the top two floors of the gutted building which are deemed the most dangerous part of the remaining structure.

It would appear that Primark have managed to come with a plan that not only aims for a quick return to trading close to the original site, but which also replaces the Bank Buildings in a state as close to the original appearance as possible. That will apparently mean using salvaged materials from the demolition work to help in the rebuilding.

High streets everywhere have been finding trading conditions tough in the past few years. Big names such as Debenhams and House of Fraser have been struggling to maintain their position, perhaps even in staying open. Other smaller names such as Pound World and Poundstretcher have all but disappeared.

Primark is one of the success stories of recent years. To lose it from Belfast's city centre, even for such a relatively short period of time, has demonstrated just how important it is to the wellbeing of not just itself but to surrounding traders who benefit from the increased footfall which their presence brings.

Hopefully in the next few weeks the start of restoration work and greater access to the city centre will mean an increase in city centre trade.

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