Belfast traders need sure support regardless of building’s fate

Belfast remains a major retail centre - without a retail centre
Belfast remains a major retail centre - without a retail centre

It’s now a month since that devastating fire tore the heart out of Primark’s Bank Building store and in the process blocked the centre of Belfast’s prime retail area in a stroke.

In the meantime, the City Council has moved to try and relieve the blockade by guiding shoppers around the key area where Donegall Place meets Royal Avenue, Castle Place and Castle Street.

Elsewhere in the pages of the News Letter today, you’ll find an interview with Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey urging people to continue to visit the city and the recovery fund worth almost £2 million exists to provide a variety of support to businesses caught in what appears to be a truly epic mess.

Without wishing to sound rude, in case some of you find your eyes rolling skyward at another Primark column, word is now emerging of staff being laid off or put on short time from shops which are open for business but are suffering from the drop in footfall created by the lack of connectivity.

If you haven’t been to Belfast since the fire, then try to imagine your main street with a barrier across its centre and then consider the inconvenience involved in getting from the store on one side to to the one right next door on the other.

Then multiply that by a factor of 10, and all because there was a fire in one building.

As the Christmas stock begins to appear on shelves around town, the sense of urgency and alarm is all too understandable.

On Friday the traders representatives met senior civil servants from Stormont and council officials.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has decreed that the former be given more decision making responsibiliites given the ongoing lack of an Executive and this would seem to be a perfect arena in which to exercise such authority.

Primark, meanwhile, is understood to be bringing a proposal to the council next week - presumably that the building is saveable and should be retained, or that it is beyond recovery and should come down.

Neither of those options offers a quick solution to the problem, but it’s a start and it should galvanise those in a position to help to step in with haste to provide some kind of certainty.