Newsletter – Special Primark Fire Edition

It has been a busy and stressful ten days in the aftermath of such devastation for one of our city's leading retailers. No one could have anticipated the sheer scale of the damage and repercussions that would be felt right across Belfast.

Our first thoughts were of relief that no one was hurt. Once this was established, we quickly turned our thoughts on how we could help.

Since that day we have been working hard to help ensure that we do all in our power to help Primark find alternative premises, urgently, and that we also help every business affected in any way we possibly can. It is our mission to help Belfast get back to normality as soon as humanly possible.

Action

We have been involved in emergency planning meetings at City Hall and both Martina and myself have attended coordination meetings attended by traders with presentations by HIFRS, PSNI, BCC Building Control, BCCM and Primark.

We coordinated and chaired a meeting today, Friday 7th September, with our four Belfast MPs, to address the seriously detrimental effect on business in the city. We have put our points to them and called for immediate action to be taken.

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.

Progress

Yesterday saw news that Secretary of State Karen Bradley is to bring forward legislation to allow civil servants to make decisions in the absence of devolution. We welcome this wholeheartedly and will maximise every opportunity.

Belfast has never needed more urgent leadership from senior decision makers on not only the Primark fire but on a range of pertinent issues affecting trade and investment.

We are committed to working with these civil servants to address other pressing concerns affecting the growth of the city such as the construction delay at the York Street Interchange and others.

Traders

The second meeting we have called is with Traders, Agents and Landlords on Monday 10th September at 5.30pm at the Europa Hotel, Belfast. Every business owner and staff affected are invited to come along. We will be listening to all ideas, collating all feedback and giving everyone a platform to communicate all of the impacts that this fire has had on their businesses. We will then continue to lobby those with decision making power for the good of the entire city of Belfast. The event will also be attended by a rates expert who can help advise on the best way forward for businesses.

Media and Press

We have been communicating our role and our plans of action with the media from the very early stages of this incident. Our message has been first of all shock and sympathy for Primark, followed by concern for traders and statements on how we can help, which we have stated as being in the areas of rates, communication and marketing the city. The message now is we need certainty and information for traders outside of the cordon.

Marketing

Last week I met with Belfast One and Visit Belfast to help prompt and coordinate a marketing campaign to encourage shoppers and visitors to return to the city centre, and communicate the message that most of the city remains open. We spoke to Belfast City Council and the Department for Communities about funding. Martina and I attended a meeting convened by Belfast One with their advertising agency to produce a campaign. There is a need for urgency in this and we expect to see campaigns from Belfast One and Visit Belfast immediately which will help promote through social media. Belfast Chamber is ready to provide PR support to the campaign through out PR agency, Birdsong Communications, who is committed to helping drive this campaign forward and has been coordinating all media statements and responses daily since the event occurred.

I have spoken to Suzanne Wylie, Chief Executive of Belfast City Council and their Communications team who are working with Visit Belfast to fund the marketing campaign to get people back into the city.

Rates

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce in conjunction with Belfast City Centre Management and Belfast One have met with Land and Property Services to lobby for and get guidance on the support they can give traders affected by the fire. This applies both to the businesses within the safety cordon and those in the surrounding areas. We have produced a briefing note to summarise this support which is available through Martina Connolly.

At the Traders, Agents and Landlords meeting on Monday evening, a rates specialist will be available to give more guidance on an individual basis.

In Summary

As the leading voice of the Belfast business Community, we are committed to helping business and trade in any way we can. We are doing our utmost to ensure that Belfast gets back to normality as soon as humanly possible. We welcome anyone who would like a platform for their views and experience following the fire and/or with an interest in helping us with our mission to some along to our Traders, Agents and Landlords on Monday 10 September at the Europa Hotel, Belfast at 5.30pm.

To confirm your attendance RSVP to Martina Connolly m.connolly@belfastchamber.com or call 028 9033 1399.