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Collateral damage to businesses 'could be tens of millions'

The inferno takes a complete grip of the Primark store in Belfast city centre
Gary McDonald Business Editor

IT could be weeks before dozens of businesses in Belfast in the immediate vicinity of the devastating Primark inferno are fully up and running again.

And as well as the cost to Primark of losing its own prime asset, it is estimated that the bill for collateral damage to other businesses - who already lost most of a day's trade - could run into the tens of millions.

Scores of shops, offices and food outlets across a huge swathe of the city centre - including Donegall Place, Royal Avenue, Castle Street, High Street and Queen Street - were forced to close a short time after the blaze broke at around 11am.

It will be at least Wednesday morning until many of them will be allowed to access their premises.

But it is likely many will have to write off their entire stock due to smoke damage alone, including fashion retailer Zara on one side and food store Tesco Metro on the other.

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Belfast Chamber of Trade & Commerce has pledged to do all it can to assist those retailers impacted.

Its president Rajesh Rana said: "It is a sad day for Belfast and for one of our city’s leading retailers, but we are just relieved the store was successfully evacuated and there were no reported injuries.

“As a Chamber we will do our absolute best to support Primark and other traders in any way we can in the days and months following this.”

Meanwhile more than 500 staff at Primark are facing an uncertain future in the wake of the blaze as speculation mounts as to how soon the retail giant can restart trading.

Emergency services at the scene of the fire at the Primark building in Belfast city centre. Photo by Hugh Russell

There are currently a number of empty units in Belfast city centre, including the 20,000 sq ft former Toys R Us store in Castlecourt and a 9,000 sq ft shop vacated by Jacamo/Simply B on Royal Avenue just last week.

But they come nowhere close to the 100,000 sq ft of trading and storage space Primark had on five floors at its former Bank Buildings, and the retailer may look to either operate a number of small satellite outlets or relocate to an out-of-town location in a warehouse-type unit.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts told the Irish News: "This is a human tragedy from the workers' viewpoint. The Primark building and stock can be replaced, but its their jobs that must now be the immediate concern."

Cartoonist Ian Knox on the fire in a Primark store which destroyed Belfast's iconic Bank Buildings

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