Northern Ireland

Primark fire: Secretary of State defends £2m regeneration fund

Secretary of State Karen Bradley with Belfast Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey at a meeting at City Hall
Image caption Secretary of State Karen Bradley (right) with Belfast Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey at a meeting at City Hall

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has defended an allocation of £2m to help regenerate Belfast city centre following a major fire.

The historic Bank Buildings, which housed Primark, was destroyed in the 28 August blaze that took several days to extinguish.

A safety cordon around the building has been in place since then.

It has left 14 businesses unable to trade.

On Thursday, The Spinning Wheel - a curtains and blinds store in the vicinity of Bank Buildings - became the latest economic casualty in the area as it closed its doors after going into administration.

Image caption The Spinning Wheel curtains and blinds store closed on Thursday

The company has traded in Belfast city centre for over four decades, but recently suffered problems due to delayed insurance payments for smoke damaged stock, compounded by a lack of passing trade on Fountain Street, which is cordoned off at Castle Street.

Other traders in the area have reported an almost 50% drop in business.

Image caption Fountain Street is cordoned off at its junction with Castle Street

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium has argued that the government's contribution falls short of expectation.

However, at a meeting with traders affected by the fire at Belfast City Hall on Thursday morning, the Secretary of State defended it, saying she had been "struck by the impact on Belfast city centre by the fire, it was a tragedy".

"I have been hearing from businesses just now, I heard from businesses earlier in the year," she said.

"I am really pleased that the Chancellor has put forward £2m in the Budget, which is for in-year spending that is in addition to the money that the council has committed, in addition to the money that Primark themselves has committed and it has to be spent by the end of March, so this is for immediate spending."

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption A safety cordon has been in place around Bank Building since August

Mrs Bradley said the government is "looking at the longer term", but that this allocation was "about how do we keep people (coming) into Belfast city centre, coming and enjoying all the shops, retailers, services and others. This is to help to deliver that".

Mrs Bradley also pointed out that £350m has been allocated to the greater Belfast area in the Budget as part of the Belfast Region City Deal.

Last week, Primark was granted permission by the city council's planning committee to commence work on Bank Buildings.

That work has now begun.

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