Wednesday 23 October 2019

Demolition to begin of Cork car park that suffered multi-million euro damage in fire

Long haul: An undamaged car is removed by crane from Douglas Village Shopping Centre. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Long haul: An undamaged car is removed by crane from Douglas Village Shopping Centre. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Ralph Riegel

DEMOLITION of a shopping centre car park which suffered multi-million euro damage in an accidental fire is set to begin next week.

Traders and workers at the Douglas Village Shopping Centre in Cork have been briefed on the demolition of the multi-storey car park devastated by an accidental vehicle blaze on August 31.

It is now expected to be June-July 2020 before the major shopping centre is fully rebuilt and ready to re-open.

The blaze and its aftermath is set to spark a major legal battle between the insurers of the vehicle which caught fire and the car manufacturer involved over who is liable for the damages involved.

The shopping centre operators confirmed major work is now expected to begin within days.

"Demolition is now scheduled to begin next week," a spokesperson said.

"An initial area for demolition has been identified but given the extent of the damage, additional areas may have to be added as the damaged areas get exposed and inspected up close."

"The extent of the rebuild will depend on the amount of the demolition. More on the rebuild time frame will be known once demolition is complete."

It was confirmed that 137 cars stranded in the gutted car park have been removed with a further 10 set to be removed over the coming days.

"This will leave 47 (vehicles) on site, the vast majority of which are fully destroyed. This includes three cars on the top floor that it might be possible to recover during the demolition process."

Hundreds of workers are employed by the 50 traders in the complex including anchor tenants Tesco, Marks & Spencer and TK Max.

After the fire, the entire car park had to be closed amid safety fears - leaving the shopping centre without more than 1,000 parking spaces.

Major traders have been able to reallocate staff to other branches but numerous smaller retailers have had no option but to lay-off temporary and permanent staff.

The devastating fire came after the same shopping centre was hit by disastrous flooding in Douglas in 2012.

Some traders have offered a delivery service in a bid to sustain business while the parking issue is resolved.

Michael O'Connor of Pharmacy First Plus in the Douglas Village Shopping Centre said the loss of 1,000 parking spaces wouldn't just hit the centre but Douglas village itself.

His pharmacy is now offering a delivery service to customers for medications and other supplies.

"We are trying to protect our customer base as best we can," he said.

Trader Vicki Craber of Itso said it had been a nightmare six days for traders and retailers needed support from State agencies.

Alastair Spink of Puccinos warned that delays in allowing retailers to resume full trading would have very serious implications.

A number of traders have already let temporary, part-time and permanent staff go.

In a bid to help Douglas traders, Cork City Council has offered one hour of free car parking in the area.

The shopping centre and its multi-storey car park had to be evacuated on August 31 after an accidental fire erupted in a parked people car.

The car, parked on Level One of the multi-storey complex, later had its fuel tank explode which immediately spread flames to other cars.

By the time the blaze was subsequently brought under control by 11 units of Cork Fire Brigade in a major incident response, some 60 cars had been gutted or badly damaged.

The painstaking operation to remove by crane 130 cars trapped in the multi-storey car park was largely completed last week.

However, the major problem was caused by the intensity of the fire which damaged the structural integrity of the car park's steel support beams.

Sections of the car park must now be demolished amid safety concerns.

Experts acknowledged that the damages involved will run to millions of Euro.

It is hoped to have the demolition completed by late November.

Construction of the replacement car park sections could take until mid 2020 to complete.

Key steel support beams warped and failed due to the extreme temperatures which the fire reached.

Douglas Village Shopping Centre manager Bartosz Mieszala said everything possible is being done to expedite the process.

"The whole process is being managed by PJ Hegarty & Sons who are now officially our contractor for all the rebuild."

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