Officials signal approval for Primark's plan to demolish and rebuild Bank Buildings store

Work to stablise Primark's Bank Buildings store allowed for the phased reopening of the streets around the fire damaged structure. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Ryan McAleer

OFFICIALS at Belfast City Council have signalled their approval for Primark to proceed with its bid to demolish and rebuild what's left of its fire damaged Bank Buildings store.

The Dublin-based fashion retailer has already secured two applications to carry out conservation led work in a bid to preserve some of the listed building's surviving features.

Now the city authority's planning committee looks set to approve the major redevelopment of the flagship store on Tuesday.

According to a report prepared by planners, the demolition and piling work will take around nine months, before the construction can eventually begin. It will mean the flagship Primark store is unlikely to reopen until at least 2021.

Much of the internal structure either collapsed or was severely damaged by the August 28 1018 inferno. The report has catalogued the extent of the devastation to the building.

All elements of the original timber structure was left completely destroyed, while wrought iron beams and cast iron columns either collapsed, were left severely buckled or lost their integrity.

The Fire Service declared in June that the blaze was started accidentally.

Construction work on a large modern extension to the store had been ongoing in Commonwealth House on Castle Street at the time.

The fall out from the fire resulted in a huge cordon being set up around the listed Bank Buildings, which massive economic implications for the retail economy in the centre of Belfast.

Work in recent months has been undertaken to stablise the building, allowing for the phased reopening of streets around Bank Buildings.

But the remains of the cordon will not be removed completely until the work is complete.

The work has included the removal, cataloguing and retention, where possible, of stonework to fourth and fifth level, erection of a façade retention system and demolition of the internal structure.

The next phase, to rebuild the store, has taken a step forward, with city council officials indicating their approval for Primark's plans.

It will include the reinstatement of previously removed upper floor structures from Bank Street, Royal Avenue and Castle Street façades and reinstatement of 1970s wall on Bank Street.

The work will also connect the restored Bank Buildings to the new Castle Street premises, which opened last December. Primark also moved to acquire Fountain House in nearby Donegall Place last year, relocating much of its retail operation there in April.

According to the application, the new Bank Buildings store will include a café.

The report to be presented at Tuesday's ‘s planning committee concludes: “The proposal involves the much needed restoration of one of the city centres most significant heritage assets.

“It is effectively a like for like replacement of the Bank Buildings and will integrate with the existing extension to the Primark store to create a substantial retail offer in Belfast's primary retail core.

“A conservation led approach will ensure that as much of the original external fabric of the building is retained, whilst new materials will be as close in terms of colour and texture to the existing as possible to ensure retention of the building's historical character.”

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