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Primark fire: Chamber of Commerce suggests temporary pathway

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image captionPrimark workers have been unable to return to work since the blaze

Belfast Chamber of Commerce has suggested a temporary pedestrian structure to boost footfall in the main shopping area after the Primark fire.

A cordon remain in place after a blaze devastated the Bank Buildings shop and 14 businesses inside the safety zone are currently unable to trade.

The cordon could last for four months and the chamber's president Rajesh Rana said an "urgent solution" is needed.

Meanwhile, Primark said it will pay all the shop's staff until the end of 2018.

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The firm said it aims to have its staff back in work and redeployed across its Newtownards, Newtownabbey and Lisburn stores from Monday, 17 September.

media captionThe landmark building was gutted by the fire within a matter of hours

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce held a meeting on Friday to discuss the issues facing retailers in the city following the fire.

"We represent over 400 businesses in Belfast covering all sectors and as retailers and business owners we know first-hand the devastation to footfall and trade that this fire has had," said Mr Rana.

"We reiterated that a four-month cordon in the retail core of Belfast in the crucial months leading up to Christmas will have devastating consequences to the shops not only within the cordon but to the whole city."

The chamber has welcomed CastleCourt's decision to reduce its car parking charges this weekend and every Saturday and Sunday in September in a bid to increase footfall in the city centre following the Primark fire.

'Immediate risk'

In a statement today, Primark said its team is working closely with authorities to determine the best approach to reducing the size of the safety cordon as soon as feasible.

The clothing retailer said that is has participated in stakeholder meetings to provide ongoing updates to all parties involved.

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

"In the immediate aftermath of the fire, we established a team of specialist engineers to advise on how to secure the structure as soon as possible. The priority was to remove elements that posed an immediate risk to public safety," said the statement.

"This specialist teams continue to survey the building to determine its structural integrity and to inform the best next steps to reduce the cordon restrictions.

"All options are being explored for the future of the structure."

'Unprecedented deal'

In relation to its staff who worked in the damaged shop, Primark's statement added: "We will be allocating individuals to other Primark stores, taking into account each team member's individual circumstances.

"Primark is holding one-to-one discussions with colleagues to ensure that important factors such as additional travel expenses are also taken into account."

Michaela Lafferty from the shop workers union USDAW said that the deal Primark had struck with the workers' was "unprecedented".

"We had a meeting with them on Tuesday asking for a long-term strategy and they have come back and secured workers' pay until the end of December."

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