NI Secretary of State Karen Bradley defends £2m allocation for Belfast

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has defended an allocation of £2 million to help regenerate Belfast city centre following a major fire.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium argued that the allocation fell short of expectation.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Deirdre Hargey (left) and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley (right) speaking to the media after their meeting at Belfast City Hall about the Primark fire

Lord Mayor of Belfast Deirdre Hargey (left) and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley (right) speaking to the media after their meeting at Belfast City Hall about the Primark fire

The historic Bank Buildings, which housed Primark, was left a charred shell after the blaze on August 28 that took several days to extinguish.

A safety cordon around the building has been in place since then.

It has left 14 businesses unable to trade.

Earlier this month, it emerged the fire caused a 30% drop in footfall in the city centre.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley speaking to the media at Belfast City Hall following a meeting about the Primark fire

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley speaking to the media at Belfast City Hall following a meeting about the Primark fire

A Belfast City Council report has found a reduction of almost 50% in some areas close to Bank Buildings.

Ms Bradley met traders affected by the fire at Belfast City Hall on Thursday morning.

The Secretary of State defended the £2 million allocated by Chancellor Philip Hammond in the Budget this week.

“I have been struck by the impact on Belfast city centre by the fire, it was a tragedy,” she said.

“It is an act of God, there’s nothing that anyone could do about it, but the consequences of it have been devastating for businesses.

“I have been hearing from businesses just now, I heard from businesses earlier in the year.

“I am really pleased that the Chancellor has put forward £2 million in the Budget which is for in year spending, that is in addition to the money that the council has committed, in addition to the money that Primark themselves has committed and it has to be spent by the end of March, so this is for immediate spending.

“This is to help with the regeneration of the city centre in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

“We are looking at the longer term, but this is about how do we keep people (coming) into Belfast city centre, coming and enjoying all the shops, retailers, services and others. This is to help to deliver that.”

Ms Bradley also pointed out the £350 million allocated to the greater Belfast area in the Budget as part of the Belfast region city deal.

Last week, Primark was granted permission by the city council’s planning committee to commence work on Bank Buildings.

That work has now started.

Earlier in October, the council announced details of a £1.69 million package aimed at attracting people into the city centre.

It included a ski slope, Ferris wheel and mini festival.

Speaking after the meeting, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly said it is currently “make or break” time for traders.

“It was good to hear some genuine concern for Belfast city centre and the traders affected by the Primark fire from the Secretary of State,” he said.

“Though the £2 million is less than we expected or indeed needed, it is a good start on what will be a long journey back for the city.

“The monies promised in the Budget are now with the Department of Finance and we must see that money passed on to the council as soon as possible so it can be allocated to those who need it most, especially those 14 businesses still stuck behind the cordon, unable to open. With Christmas only weeks away this is make or break time.”