Belfast city centre will take "an important step" towards returning to full trading health today when some retailers that were forced to close following a devastating fire that destroyed Primark's flagship store in the city will reopen for business for the first time in nearly four months.
A substantial safety cordon has been in place since the fire which encompassed Primark's flagship store in Bank Buildings and 14 nearby businesses.
However, Belfast City Council said a temporary 35m walkway constructed from shipping containers will open on Monday which will enable pedestrians to safely walk past the remains of the Primark store and according to the council restore pedestrian access to one of the city's main thoroughfares between Royal Avenue and Donegall Place.
Retail bosses have repeatedly warned that the safety cordon had effectively split the city centre into two parts and latest industry research from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) suggested that the impact of the fire and the safety cordon had led to a 60 per cent slump in shopper footfall in some parts of the city centre.
But Aodhán Connolly, director of NIRC, believes the new walkway will help attract shoppers back into the “retail hub of Belfast city centre”.
Belfast City Council has also confirmed that several retail businesses who are located close to the damaged Primark building have also got the green light to reopen.
Mr Connolly said this is an “important step on the way back for Belfast” and has urged Christmas shoppers to support businesses in the city centre.
He said December is a crucial month for businesses and in some cases accounts for 12.5 per cent of their annual retail sales.
In a statement the council said the temporary walkway will help people get around the city centre and has outlined details of how it will also help traders located in the area.
"Three businesses around the Castle Place junction – McDonald's, Skechers and Argento – will reopen on Monday and Spar will also reopen on Tuesday with reduced hours. Zara, Tesco Metro and British Heart Fountain remain closed while works continue to secure Bank Buildings, and City Picnic and Abacus Beads will continue to trade from their temporary premises."
Primark had previously confirmed it will open a new store at Commonwealth House, on Castle Street, later this week on Saturday December 8th.
The retailer said it also intended to open an additional store in Fountain House, which is located on Donegall Place in the city centre in spring 2019.