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Primark reopening is welcome news for beleaguered city centre

Confirmation that Primark and a number of other stores are to reopen next week following the devastating fire which gutted Bank Buildings, is welcome news for Belfast city centre.

When the blaze started on the upper part of the historic building on August 28, few could have imagined it would cause such catastrophic damage, not just to the store but to the wider economy of the city centre.

The loss of the hugely popular retailer and the closure of Castle Junction, affecting pedestrians and traffic, including public transport, has had an enormously detrimental impact on footfall at what should be the busiest shopping period of the year.

A number of traders inside and just outside the safety cordon around the ruined shell have suffered significantly and some have been forced to relocate their premises.

A fund has provided some measure of assistance but everyone would accept that the situation is extremely difficult for all concerned.

Efforts are being made to attract people into the city centre with a number of family friendly initiatives, including a 'snow slide' in Donegall Place.

However, opening the Primark extension in Castle Street on December 8 and allowing pedestrian access from Royal Avenue to Donegall Place should make a major difference and provide a timely boost to Christmas trade.

Admittedly, the safety measures being put in place to facilitate the reopening are unusual and will involve a specially constructed enclosed walkway protected by shipping containers.

The containers are there 'in case the Primark building falls', according to Joe O'Connor, who is overseeing the restoration work.

Mr O'Connor also described the building as 'hanging in the breeze', but both Primark and Belfast City Council said the walkway will offer shoppers full protection.

Public safety must be of paramount concern, of course, and we must trust that all necessary precautions are put in place.

But there is no doubt that the return of Primark and the changes to the cordon will provide a much needed boost at a challenging time.

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