Civil Service chief confirms £1.1m for Belfast fire fund

Efforts to bring shoppers and visitors back into Belfast city centre in the wake of the Bank Buildings fire will be supported by a further £1.1 million from Northern Ireland departments, Civil Service chief David Sterling has annnouced.

As new retail data indicated on Monday that the city centre continues to suffer hugely as a result of the August 28 fire, the sum brings the overall recovery package to nearly £6m.

Work is now underway to open a secure walkway linking Royal Avenue with Donegall Place

Work is now underway to open a secure walkway linking Royal Avenue with Donegall Place

“Since the devastating fire at Bank Buildings, the civil service has been working closely with Belfast City Council to support affected traders in the run up to Christmas,” Mr Sterling said.

“This will help address some of the difficulties shoppers and visitors have faced as they try and move around the city centre.

“This funding package is part of our ongoing efforts to do everything we possibly can within our available resources.”

The £1.1m figure is in addition to the £380,000 previously provided to the council by the Department for Communities.

The overall package is designed to help encourage people into the city centre between now and spring 2019.

A longer-term strategy for the city is also being planned for the next 3-5 years.

In terms of support £200,000 will come from the Department for Communities which will contribute to significant investment in environmental improvements in open spaces in the city centre, with enhanced street lighting and street art, alongside a programme of main events and smaller activities

:: £400,000 from the Department for the Economy will go on a range of initiatives to increase visitors to the city centre and boost tourism.

:: £500,000 from the Department for Infrastructure will allow Translink to deliver a high impact festive travel campaign, offering major discounts on fares to encourage more people to travel into the heart of Belfast.

“We wholeheartedly welcome this announcement of further funding from the Head of the Civil Service,” said Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland retail Consortium.

“In the run up to what should be the busiest time of the year for traders ,but is in essence make or break time for many around the cordon area, this financial aid is a lifeline. Our footfall figures from last month have shown no tangible up lift in consumer numbers to the city centre when we need shoppers back in their droves.”

Retail NI CEO Glyn Roberts said more was needed.

“Following the fire, shoppers have been shopping less in Belfast City Centre and a lot more in large out of town shopping centres. We must recreate a Belfast City Centre which has a radically new retail and hospitality offer to attract these shoppers back.”

Rajesh Rana, president of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce said: “We will now work closely with the City stakeholders to help ensure that this fund - and indeed the almost £5m already in the pot- is spent in most effective way to benefit the entire City of Belfast for its long-term sustainability.

“The city will offer a great Christmas experience and looks forward to the reopening of Primark in Commonwealth House on 8 December.”