Belfast Primark fire could lead to children-friendly city centre redesign

As efforts are made to restore Belfast to its former glory, councillors are keen to use last year’s tragic fire as an opportunity to reimagine how the city centre might look in the future.

Since a blaze which gutted Primark’s historic Bank Buildings property in August 2018, different ideas and proposals have been put on the table to create something new for the capital’s residents, shoppers and traders.

But those in charge of the restoration plans say they are looking to learn from other cities to create public spaces and streets which are child-friendly and encourage learning.

Times have been tough for businesses since with a safety cordon put in place after the fire causing significant disruption and forcing the temporary closure of 14 shops.

But members of the council’s City Growth and Regeneration committee last month agreed to apply for the ‘Streets for Kids’ programme which provides technical guidance and advanced street designs to create safe public spaces for children of all ages and abilities to learn, play, and move around the city.

The council is making a joint application with Belfast Healthy Cities to the programme - an initiative of the US National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Global Designing Cities Initiative (NACTO-GDCI).

Working with Arup as a strategic partner, Belfast’s Resilience commissioner Grainia Long is actively examining ways in which Belfast can learn from other cities globally to plan an empowering and healthy environment for children to enable them to thrive.

“An emerging theme in our early engagement on this issue is the importance of designing a city that supports a positive childhood for all,” Long added. “There is evidence that urban spaces which support healthy child development also contribute to improved health for all our citizens in terms of cleaner air, improved mobility, inclusion and tackling loneliness – and these are all ambitions within the Belfast Agenda.”

Donal Lyons, chair of the City Growth and Regeneration committee added: “Last year’s fire at Bank Buildings, and the impact that has had on our city centre, has prompted us to look at how our public spaces are used. We are committed to restoring our city centre to the very vibrant place we know it to be; but that includes exploring new ideas and taking this opportunity to reimagine how our city centre might look – how, if you like, we put it back together again and create something new.”

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