Businesses hit by Primark inferno can tap into rates 'hardship fund'

Gary McDonald Business Editor

BUSINESSES forced to shut in the immediate aftermath of the Primark blaze have been promised help from a special rates "hardship fund" as they continue to count the cost in terms of lost trade in the high millions.

More than 40 businesses - ranging from corporate giants like Tesco to a number of small 'corner shops' in Castle Street - who were within a 45-metre cordon of the Bank Buildings inferno kept their shutters down against yesterday as structural engineers continued to inspect the building amid fears that it could collapse.

And insurance assessors will now move in to pore over not just the ill-fated Primark premises, but other properties in the area as the final bill in the wake of Tuesday's fire likely to run into the tens of millions.

Stock in a number of premises - whether foodstuffs, clothing or boxed goods - will be written off in its entirety, and the knock-on effect for many neighbouring businesses and city centre retailers will be felt well into next week.

Belfast Chamber of Commerce says it is working to collate a list of alternative vacant premises in the city that traders can relocate to on a temporary basis if required.

Primark itself is understood to be assessing if it can re-open in some sort of reduced capacity in part of the back of its building which, externally at least, appeared to survive the blaze.

Its £30 million extension was to have included an additional 30,000 sq ft of space in what was the old Commonwealth House building on Castle Street.

Despite the devastation to the iconic Bank Buildings part of Primark facing out into Castle Place, the block to the rear seemed to have been unscathed.

Land & Property Services (LPS), meanwhile, urged businesses impacted by the fire to contact it to discuss support available for rates.

Premises which may have been damaged by the fire can apply to the district valuer to have their rates reassessed, and LPS said it is willing to discuss extended payment arrangements with affected businesses.

And ratepayers may also be eligible for the hardship relief scheme, which is intended to assist businesses who meet the specific conditions to recover from a temporary crisis, financial or otherwise, as a result of exceptional circumstances.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “We welcome the LPS announcement on rates for impacted traders.”

He added: “Belfast has a fantastic retail offer and we have no doubt will go from strength to strength. The city centre is still open for business and will bounce back from this.”

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