Retailer Primark is to donate £500,000 to efforts to support Belfast traders hit by the devastating fire at its landmark city store.
The blaze which gutted Primark’s historic Bank Buildings property last month has caused major disruption in the city centre.
A large cordon erected round the charred shell of the store is expected to remain in place for months amid uncertainty over whether it, or parts of it, can be saved.
No-one has yet been able to enter the building due to the ongoing risk of collapse.
All structural assessments are being carried out aerially from cranes, with sensitive movement monitors and laser technology assisting engineers.
Several businesses within the safety cordon have been forced to shut, while others have seen footfall badly affected by the cordon that blocks off several central thoroughfares.
With fears the cordon could still be in place during the pre-Christmas shopping period, many traders are facing a bleak short-term future.
Some businesses have called for the building to be pulled down immediately to mitigate the economic impact.
However, it is understood any demolition project would be significantly complicated by the safety concerns around the huge structure.
As the Bank Buildings is a listed building, pulling it down would also be unlawful without definitive evidence it cannot be saved.
Architectural campaigners could also potentially challenge any move to demolish it in the courts.
Primark, which continues to pay staff who worked in the destroyed store, has committed to maintaining a presence in Belfast city centre, even if the Bank Buildings is not saved.
Announcing the donation to Belfast City Council’s efforts to help traders, a Primark spokeswoman said: “It is our intention to be back up and trading again as soon possible. As you can appreciate, we are at the early stages on this and will confirm details as soon as possible.
“We hope that this will assist the on-going efforts to drive footfall into the city centre.
“As well as re-establishing a high street presence in the city, Primark is committed to supporting the business community affected by the fire.
“Primark will be donating £500,000 to Belfast City Council’s recovery programme as a gesture of goodwill.
“The council will manage the distribution of the recovery fund to those local businesses impacted by the fire.”
A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said: “This is a very welcome announcement from Primark and will contribute to the wider City Recovery Investment Fund, which the council is currently establishing, and which will be considered by members of the Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee on Friday.
“Primark is very keen to support small businesses in the city centre - in particular those that have been severely impacted by the fire. The company has asked Belfast City Council to distribute this funding on its behalf.
“Belfast City Council is developing a City Recovery Investment Programme which includes immediate, medium and longer-term proposals to support businesses, re-establish and sustain high levels of trading the city centre in the lead up to Christmas and beyond, increase connectivity across the city centre, ultimately ensuring the city’s economic resilience.
“The contribution made by Primark will be an important part of that overall programme delivery.
“Council and its city partners will continue their engagement with traders and landlords. Following the outcome of Friday’s meeting, more details will become available around how businesses can access the funding and when.”