Northern Ireland

Belfast Primark fire: businesses to have rates review

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Media captionDrone footage shows the extent of the destruction caused by the fire at the Bank Buildings

Fourteen businesses who were forced to close after a fire broke out at a Primark store in Belfast city centre on Tuesday, will have their rates reviewed.

A cordon around the store has been narrowed to allow other neighbouring shops to open.

The Fire and Rescue Service has said it is ready to begin an investigation into the cause of the fire.

Only one fire engine was at the scene on Thursday evening as a precaution.

A charred shell is all that remains of the landmark Bank Buildings on Castle Street after a massive blaze tore through it.

Internal parts of the buildings are continuing to collapse but the facade remains intact.

A senior firefighter said he was "optimistic" that it could be saved.

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Media captionThe landmark building was destroyed by the fire within a matter of hours

The fire started at the top of the five-storey Bank Buildings at about 11:00 BST on Tuesday.

Within hours it had spread to the bottom floor, leaving the buildings completely destroyed.

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Image caption A major extension at the rear of the Bank Buildings has been saved by firefighters

The buildings were quickly evacuated, according to the fire service, and there have been no reports of injuries.

More than 350 people worked at the store, which was being refurbished and extended at an estimated cost of £30m.

The fire service said an investigation into the cause of the fire will start once the structural integrity and safety of the buildings have been determined.

'Optimistic it can be saved'

Senior firefighter Aidan Jennings said there some "burning hotstops" remain inside the Bank Buildings but the fire service's work has been scaled down.

"Flames are sporadically jumping up and down in places as a result of stubborn areas we can't reach," he said.

"We haven't had anything [collapse] externally - it's been hanging floors, debris and brickwork falling down from the internal structure."

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Image caption Firefighters are still at Bank Buildings but their operation is nearing an end

It is "tragic" to see the Bank Buildings burnt out, he said, but there is hope that it can be saved.

"I'm optimistic that it can be saved and I'm pleased that it's still standing.

"Structural engineers have been looking at the facade and the rest of the building and I'm optimistic that there'll be some decision today in relation to where we are with that."

Shane Quinn, of the Belfast Buildings Trust, said it would take "days and weeks" to assess whether the buildings could be restored.

"But I think we have to start from the premise that it is possible and that it must be saved," he added.

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Image caption Shoppers and staff escaped from the store after the fire started on Tuesday morning

Primark staff were told on Wednesday that they would be paid for the rest of this week.

A trade union that represents some of the shop's staff had a "very positive meeting" with Primark's management was assured that the workers' futures would be made clear next week.

Rajesh Rana, the president of the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said businesses inside the cordon around the Bank Buildings should not have to pay rates while they remain closed.

"We would also lobby that the businesses immediately adjacent to the cordon should have some relief - footfall is going to be dramatically affected," he added.

Belfast City Council has been considering ways to help nearby traders affected by the fire.

"We are working with retailers to try to support them, both in the short term by getting the street opened as soon as possible but also in the long term to ensure that the footfall is kept there," said SDLP councillor Donal Lyons.

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