The cordon surrounding the Primark store destroyed in a huge fire in Belfast city centre is to remain in place until early 2019, it has emerged.
Belfast City Council said businesses located within the safety exclusion zone were advised of the time frame - which includes the Christmas and New Year period - on Wednesday.
While the local goverment authority said any opportunity to shrink this timeline will be taken, the news will come as a severe blow to one of the key retail hubs in the city.
Bank Buildings was destroyed in the blaze which began on the roof of the much-loved property on the morning of August 28 and spread throughout the day, leaving it as a burned out shell. In a statement the council said engineers will be assessing the site over the coming days 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 statement reads. Fourteen businesses remain within the safety cordon and are currently unable to trade.
Belfast’s Lord Mayor, Deirdre Hargey, said: “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.
“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.”
Belfast City Council and its city partners is also planning a campaign aimed at sustaining visitors to the city and supporting retailers to run over the next four months.
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 impact of the fire will be felt for many months to come but I want to reassure our business community that they have our support and we will be with them every step of the way providing whatever support and assistance we can in the weeks and months ahead. I also want to encourage people to continue visiting our city centre and continue to rally round to support retailers.”