Northern Ireland news

Castle Street traders face further blow with eviction news

Optician Michael Connor, who owns Conway Opticians in Castle Street in Belfast city centre, said it was a "worrying time" following news that some of the traders are to be evicted to make way for redevelopment. Picture by Hugh Russell
Marie Louise McConville

A Belfast optician has called on the council to step in and help him and his fellow business owners who have been told they are being evicted from their shops in Castle Street to make way for redevelopment.

Already struggling because of fallen footfall after the Primark fire, the businesses based in Norwich Union house were told this week that the building is to be redeveloped and they need to be out of their shops by February.

The businesses affected sit close to a cordon across Castle Street, which was erected in the aftermath of the Primark fire.

Michael Connor, who has run Conway Opticians in Castle Street for the past 15 years, yesterday contacted Belfast city council to ask them to step in and help.

He said businesses inside the cordon had each been awarded £19,000 by the council to help in the aftermath of the fire.

However, he revealed that he and his fellow business owners just outside the cordon were only given £5,000.

Mr Connor said news of the eviction had come as a "bit of a shock".

"This building has been up for redevelopment since I have been here, 15 years," he said.

"They had no plans submitted and it's come as a bit of a shock.

"My first thought was my thousands of patients. I need certainty. I need to inform all my patients. I'm looking for alternative premises".

Mr Connor said he was hoping to find premises nearby as many of his patients are from west Belfast and the lower Falls area.

The Irish News reported in February that Dublin IT firm, Ammeon Limited, was to establish a 60 person Service Delivery Centre at Norwich Union House.

The building is owned by ES NUH Limited.

A spokesman for the company said: "We recognise the challenging environment faced by all businesses in Belfast city centre.

"As a commercial consequence of the Primark fire we have had to accelerate our long standing plans, which we had previously communicated with tenants, to develop the Norwich Union Building.

"We understand the impact this will have on existing tenants and we are engaging directly with them to discuss how we can support the relocation of their business".

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