Northern Ireland

Belfast Primark cordon reduced after August fire

Flames destroy the clock at the top of the Bank Buildings Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Flames destroyed the the landmark city centre Bank Buildings in August

The cordon around the burnt-out Primark building in Belfast city centre has been reduced.

Parts of Castle Street and Fountain Street have been blocked off since August, when a fire gutted the historic Bank Buildings.

On Wednesday morning a section of the cordon was opened, allowing pedestrians to walk between Castle Street and Fountain Street.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Deirdre Hargey said it would be a boost for traders.

Michael Connor, from Conway Opticians, which is beside the cordon, said the business has seen a loss in earnings because of the restricted access.

"I did not hear directly from Primark or Belfast City Council - we heard last week from the workmen - though we did get official confirmation from the council yesterday," Mr Connor told BBC News NI.

"We didn't get a lot of notice but it's good that it's open - we maybe could've planned for it if we did get more notice.

"I'm trying to keep the numbers up here, keep the income coming here and keep my staff employed and myself employed.

"We just want to get the message through to people coming down from the west side of the city that we're open now, and get the footfall numbers back to normal, up from the hundreds back up to the thousands."

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

Lord Mayor of Belfast Deirdre Hargey added: "We know that some retailers, particularly in the immediate area of the cordon, continue to be impacted by a reduction in footfall and sales, so this will be a welcome development and is good news for Castle Street traders."

There is set to be another change to the cordon by the end of March, with the footpath from the corner of Donegall Place to the corner of Fountain Street reopening in around four weeks' time.

The mayor said: "It has been a challenging six months for our city centre businesses but Belfast has proven itself to be a resilient city.

"It's really encouraging to see this progress and as the cordon continues to be reduced in the coming weeks, I think we will see footfall and trade start to increase again in this area, as accessibility for pedestrians and shoppers improves."

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