The safety cordon place around Bank Buildings is set to remain place until the New Year it was confirmed on Wednesday, leaving affected businesses ‘shut down’ over the key Christmas trading period.
As the fallout from the Primark fire continues, Belfast Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey warned that businesses close to the scene of the blaze will face disruption for a “minimum” of four months.
Fourteen stores within the cordon are currently unable to trade including clothing store Zara and Tesco situated on either side of Primark and jewellery store Argento opposite.
Ms Hargey said any opportunity to shrink that period would be seized but Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said the news was very concerning.
“The businesses withing the cordon cannot trade but many more are being impacted by the disruption to the flow of people around the city centre.
“Obviously there is a concern that this could have a domino effect on other businesses at a crucial time of the year for the retail sector.”
At a meeting hosted by the City Council on Wednesday afternoon city centre traders were given an update following the fire at Bank Buildings last week which destroyed the listed frontage of the store.
Over the coming days, engineers will be assessing the site before drawing up a plan for next steps which could include building a bracing solution to secure Bank Buildings.
Only then will it be possible to determine if the façade can be saved.
The council will start to erect signage to help people navigate around the city.
“Belfast City Council continues to work with its city partners to look at ways we can revive this part of the city centre in the wake of the fire and the ongoing recovery operation,” said Ms Hargey.
“While it is imperative that the safety cordon remains, we recognise it is having a serious impact - not just on the traders within the cordon, but for those in the immediate area who are suffering due to a reduction in footfall.
“In the coming days and weeks, we will be implementing a range of measures to help businesses who are struggling in the current situation. Alongside the group meetings, the council has continued to hold one to one meetings with businesses affected to understand all of the individual issues.”
She said the council along with other agencies and government departments were working together to find alternative premises for businesses and arranging initiatives for affected traders to provide advice in respect of rates and employability.
A campaign is also planned aimed at sustaining visitors to the city and supporting retailers.
Councillor Hargey added: “We will be doing everything we can to restore the city to the very vibrant place that it is, and, it is vital that as a city, we continue to rally round to support those affected by this event both directly and indirectly.
The news comes as Primark management vowed to return to the city centre as soon as possible on Teusday night.
“Primark reiterates our ongoing commitment to the city of Belfast,” a spokesman said.
“We are looking to be up and trading in the city as soon as possible and are currently exploring a number of options.
“We can confirm that the team were paid this week and will be paid again next week. We are working on finalising plans in the coming days and will communicate these directly to our colleagues as soon as possible.
“We would like to thank everyone once again for their support during this very challenging time for all concerned.”