The Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA) has rejected calls to demolish a historic store in central Belfast which was gutted in a major fire last week
Traders reacted furiously to news that a cordon would be in place for a minimum of four months following the blaze in the 115-year-old Bank Buildings last Tuesday.
The 14 businesses within the exclusion zone say they will not be able to trade in the run-up to the Christmas period and that surrounding firms will also be hit by the lack of pedestrian access down Royal Avenue.
Belfast jewellery firm Argento’s chief executive Peter Boyle told the Belfast Telegraph he thought the Grade B1-listed building should be demolished. ‘This can’t be allowed,’ he said. ‘They need to tear it down and tell Primark it should be rebuilt to look exactly the same.’
But while agreeing the cordon was ‘excessive’, the RSUA said it did not believe this required the demolition of the façade of the 1903 Bank Buildings, designed by WJ Lynn.
RSUA president Joan McCoy said: ‘At this stage we see no reason why the façade cannot be externally supported and a reduced cordon put in place’.
Work is still underway to assess the extent of the damage to the landmark buildings, with Belfast City Council engineers assessing the site.
Belfast City Council has said the next steps could include building a bracing solution to secure Bank Buildings, and only then will it be possible to determine whether the façade can be saved.
In a statement, it said the four-month period was not ’solely defined by the fact this is a listed building’.
Lord Mayor of Belfast Deirdre Hargey said: ‘Belfast City Council continues to work with its city partners to look at ways we can revive this part of the city centre in the wake of the fire and the ongoing recovery operation.
‘While it is imperative that the safety cordon remains, we recognise it is having a serious impact – not just on the traders within the cordon, but for those in the immediate area who are suffering due to a reduction in footfall.’
Following the devastating fire, which tore through the building as a £30 million refurbishment was nearing completion, Belfast-based architect and RIBA president-elect Alan Jones called for the historic building to be saved.
‘The Grade B1 listing indicates its importance, and best endeavours must be made to retain and return this landmark to its full glory,’ he said.