Royal Avenue should be re-opened to pedestrians in a matter of weeks following the Primark fire, after permission was granted to remove the top two floors of the listed Bank Buildings which housed the retailer.
Belfast City Council’s planning committee yesterday morning approved Primark’s proposal to begin conservation-led works to take down the most unstable parts of the building.
Then work can take place to install a “facade retention scheme”, said the council – understood to mean installing a metal frame-type structure.
It will also make it possible to reduce the cordon and restore pedestrian access between Royal Avenue and Donegall Place, subject to health and safety considerations as work takes place.
Meanwhile Primark has said it plans to begin trading from Commonwealth House in adjacent Castle Street in December.
A Primark spokesperson said: “We welcome Belfast City Council’s approval of our Bank Buildings listed building consent application. We are starting immediately and we anticipate that this phase of work will be on-going over a number of months.
“We have agreed a walkway solution with the council to open up Royal Avenue. Work has started and it should be in place in a matter of weeks.
“Since the devastating fire at Bank Buildings, it has been our ambition to be up and trading in Belfast as soon as possible. We are planning to open in Commonwealth House, Castle Street in December. We believe that opening up a Primark store in the city centre at this time will help to restore footfall into the area.”
Councillor Matt Garrett, chairman of the council’s planning committee, said: “There is a real urgency for businesses, both inside and outside the cordon, to ensure their economic resilience in the run-up to Christmas and beyond, so it’s vital that Primark moves forward and ensures the required works are completed as soon as possible.”
The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society “welcomes and supports” the move, adding that it hopes for “the reinstatement of the upper levels and full reuse and restoration of the remaining historic fabric”.