Northern Ireland

Primark fire: Central Belfast businesses to reopen soon

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

All of the businesses forced to close because of the Primark fire will reopen by mid June.

It is the first stage in the recovery of Belfast city centre's retail sector, which has had a difficult few months.

The fire, in August 2018, destroyed Bank Buildings, which housed Primark.

Cordons put up for public safety meant many shops and restaurants were closed for extended periods but one-by-one they are reopening.

It is understood the two businesses that are still closed - Tesco and restaurant City Picnic - are due to reopen by summer.

Further reductions to the cordon to allow buses to pass through the city centre are expected in June.

One section of the cordon came down at the end of March, allowing Zara to open its doors on Thursday for the first time since the fire.

Image caption The only Zara outlet in Northern Ireland reopened on Thursday

It is the only Zara outlet in Northern Ireland and it is hoped that will attract shoppers into the city centre and boost footfall.

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce president Rajesh Rana said: "It's going to really help get people back into the city.

"The big stores in Belfast, like House of Fraser and Marks and Spencer, they are some of the best performing stores in the UK for those groups.

"Belfast still has a very strong retail offering, I think some people forget that."

A Tesco spokesman confirmed the supermarket was "working hard" to reopen its store in Royal Avenue as soon as possible but said there was no exact date confirmed yet.

The return of traffic to Royal Avenue in June will be a visible sign of things returning to normal, but for many businesses it will take much longer for their operations to get back to normality.

The blaze at Primark's flagship store burned for three days after starting on 28 August.

The cordon meant that 14 businesses near the Bank Buildings were not able to trade but it has been gradually scaled back and a walkway for pedestrians allowed many shops to reopen.

The city centre saw a "drastic dip" in footfall following the fire.

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