// Retail NI says Primark fire was a “game changer” for Belfast
// Next week marks one year since the fire engulfed the original Primark store in Belfast
// “This whole crisis has shown just how resilient city centre traders really are” – Retail NI CEO Glyn Roberts
Northern Ireland’s leading retail lobby group has said the fire that devastated Primark Belfast a year ago proved to be a “game changer” for the city’s retail scene.
As the first anniversary of the Primark fire approaches, Retail NI welcomed progress in rejuvenating the area around Bank Buildings and called for “bold, radical and new vision for a 21st century Belfast city centre”.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said that while the fire was a “terrible tragedy”, it “turbo charged a new debate amongst consumers, traders and political leaders” about the type of city centre they wanted for the future.
He said Retail NI was “ambitious for Belfast” and the city had the potential to become one of the UK and Ireland’s top retail destinations, provided it had the right level of support and an enabling policy framework.
To do this, Retail NI plans to continue lobbying for a wider City Rejuvenation Fund to make its new vision a reality.
The fire in the historic Bank Buildings, which housed the Belfast branch of Primark, took place on August 28 last year and led to months of disruption in the central Belfast.
This included the closure of a main city centre junction for months, and shops within the safety cordon around the destroyed building were closed.
While this subsequently had an adverse impact on Belfast’s retail sales and footfall, Primark, Belfast City Council and the Treasury all contributed to multimillion-pound recovery efforts.
This included the “Belfast Alive” ad campaign, some winter-themed visitor attractions to attract footfall and the re-opening of Primark in December in a different location, in the Commonwealth House on Castle Street.
According to data compiled by the city’s business improvement district Belfast One, footfall figures last December indicated that shoppers who had stayed away after the fire were returning en masse.
Additionally, Belfast’s city centre footfall across the whole of 2018 was up five per cent year-on-year.
Primark even took advantage of the positive sentiment, opening a second Belfast store at Fountain House in Donegall Place during spring.
“The past year has been has been a huge challenge for the city centre and its traders,” Roberts said.
“It has been incredibly tough for the traders particularly those in Castle Street and the cordon.
“This whole crisis has shown just how resilient city centre traders really are.
“We are making solid progress in restoring that part of the city centre, but we must go further and faster.”
He added: “Looking to the future it has to be more inclusive, accessible and more family-friendly for shoppers and tourists.
“Retail NI is very ambitious for Belfast and we believe that a 21st Century city centre can be created with a dynamic retail and hospitality offer.
“Above all else, it also needs to be a fun place for families to visit and enjoy.”