More than 60 business owners and staff gathered at the Europa Hotel this evening for a special meeting to discuss the impact the Primark fire has had on trade in Belfast city centre and help find workable solutions aimed at getting business back to normal.
The traders, agents and landlords meeting, organised and chaired by Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce (BCTC), was attended by representatives of Primark, whose store was completely gutted by fire last month.
Since then a large area around The Bank Buildings at Castle Junction has been cordoned off for safety reasons, with 14 businesses still inside the exclusion zone and unable to trade. Others have seen a significant drop in footfall as streets remain closed off – a situation which could last for at least four months.
The event saw representatives from Translink, Visit Belfast, Belfast One, RHM Commercial and MKB Law give updates on public transport to help improve access to the city, marketing plans to encourage footfall and shoppers back into the city as well as rates and legal advice for those businesses affected by the fire.
The meeting was also an opportunity for owners and staff to communicate the impacts the fire has had on their individual businesses.
Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce said it will use the information in lobbying efforts with those in power, particularly in a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley on Wednesday.
The need for clear information regarding timelines for access to Royal Avenue, Donegall Place and Castle Street was top of the agenda, while the need for an alternative to the proposed four-month cordon was also voiced by concerned retailers.
They also called for urgent marketing efforts to drive much needed footfall back into the city.
Speaking after the event, Rajesh Rana, president of BCTC, said: “Tonight’s meeting was crucial in terms of keeping business owners up to date with the latest information that we have from our partner bodies and for arming us with the information to help influence those in power to start making urgent strides in getting the cordon lifted as soon as possible.
“Business owners from a wide range of sectors voiced their frustration regarding the continued lost trade which is affecting not only businesses within the cordon and immediate area, but right across the city.
“We now look forward to our planned meeting with the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley on Wednesday to allow us to push for further clarity on what can be done urgently to help these businesses.
“Whilst we are doing everything within our power, we are not the decision makers. There has never been more need for the Northern Ireland Executive to get back to power to help these Belfast businesses in the crucial run up to Christmas.”
He concluded: “We are a lobbying organisation which represents over 400 businesses in the city spanning all sectors. It is our mission to make our members voices heard and to take-action where we can. We continue to listen to all ideas, collate all feedback and communicate all of the impacts that this fire has had on all businesses in the city. We will continue to work with our partner bodies, stakeholders, civil servants and those businesses affected by the fire to help Belfast get back to business as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, BCTC has provided the following advice summary for businesses affected by the Primark fire:
• All businesses affected are encouraged to collate as much information as possible in terms of impact on footfall, trade, disruption to your business, feedback from customers as well as photographs of any damage, and anything else which is having a detrimental effect on trade etc.
• Businesses that cannot access their premises or find that their trade has been compromised should communicate this with the Land and Property Services (LPS) as soon as possible.
• Businesses should take advice on consequential loss from their insurers and legal advisors.
• Business owners are asked to complete the chamber’s online survey to help it collate specific information on how each individual business has been affected. The results will be presented to decision makers in due course.
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