Primark fire: Bank Buildings restoration 'could take three years'

By Mark Simpson

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
The burning clock face at the top of the Bank Buildings became a memorable image of the fire

Work to reconstruct the fire-damaged Primark store in Belfast may take another three years to complete, it has emerged.

Planning permission to restore Bank Buildings in the city centre was granted by the council on Tuesday.

However, the clear-up operation from the August 2018 fire has not yet finished.

It will be 2022 at the earliest before the re-building work is completed.

Welcoming Belfast Council Planning Committee's approval of its planning application, Primark said the reconstruction work would begin as soon as the removals phase was complete in early 2020.

"It will take approximately two to three years until completion," said a company spokesperson.

Media caption,
The landmark building was gutted by the fire within a matter of hours

Planning permission was granted after a report by city council officials approved the plans submitted by the firm.

"A conservation-led approach will ensure that as much of the original external fabric of the building is retained," said the report.

"New materials will be as close in terms of colour and texture to the existing [materials].

"The proposal is virtually a like-for-like restoration of the former Primark store."

'Worth doing right'

Graeme Moore of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects praised Primark for their approach to the restoration.

Image caption,
Graeme Moore said the revival of the building's exterior facade will be a huge job

"It speaks a lot that [they] are prepared to invest in a building like this, that preserves a very valuable heritage, because the easy option would have been to redevelop the site with something new," he said.

"It's potentially a huge job, but it's worth doing right."

Mr Moore said stabilising the facade of the building would entail a lot of specialised work.

"The restoration of the stonework, the windows, reinstating the roof... there will be lots of specialist craft people involved in the exterior, but the interior will be pretty much a new build structure."

'Building means business'

Roger Pollen of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) welcomed the news that building work is to begin in the new year.

"Building means business. As the new building starts to come together, there's going to be construction workers on site and there's going to be a lot of business on the back of that."

Image caption,
Roger Pollen of the Federation of Small Businesses welcomed the start of construction work

Mr Pollen said the loss of Primark caused FSB and others to realise its value to the city centre in terms of "acting as a magnet, pulling people in".

Small businesses around Primark thrived as a result of its presence, he said.

"The damage made us realise how interconnected everything is. We need the big businesses and the small ones. They don't compete - they complement each other."

The fire at the city centre premises burned for three days after starting on 28 August 2018.

A safety cordon put in place around Bank Buildings meant 14 nearby businesses were unable to trade for several months.