A new pedestrian walkway in the area in front of Primark will help pave the way for the reopening of up to 10 shops in Belfast city centre.
The enclosed walkway, which is protected from the potential collapse of the fire-devastated building by shipping containers filled with ballast, is on course to be open to the public next Monday.
It will provide access to eight stores immediately in front of Primark which currently lie inside the cordoned-off area. McDonalds, Skechers and Argento are among those retailers who have been closed since August’s fire.
Meanwhile, Primark itself has announced it will reopen in Belfast on Saturday, December 8. While the listed front part of its premises remains a no-go zone, the retailer will trade from the new build at the back which was not seriously affected by the fire in August.
Irish department store Guiney’s will also open its first store in Northern Ireland at the location of the former BHS store in Castle Place, very close to where the cordon is currently in place.
It is feasible that all 10 stores could be trading in Belfast within the next fortnight though some clean-up operations may take longer than others if food items have been lying in premises for over three months.
At a media briefing, Belfast City Council and Primark gave an update as to the progress following the fire.
Joseph O’Connor from the company’s construction team revealed that shipping containers filled with ballast had been used to protect the walkway should the fire-damaged Bank Buildings collapse.
The walkway is made from scaffolding and allows pedestrian access between Donegall Place and Royal Avenue.
Mr O’Connor said shipping containers would also be stacked seven high to brace Primark’s premises and eventually allow the reopening of adjacent stores Tesco and Zara and in turn Castle Street.
He said the upper part of Primark which had been “hanging in the breeze” has now been secured which will allow for further investigation into the scale of the damage further down the building.
When Primark reopens on December 8 at 9am, area manager Neale Kirke said crowd control would be in place as large crowds were expected. Access to the 26,700 sq ft store will be via Castle Street.