Belfast expanding rapidly as a retail hub
Belfast has been named as one of the world's fastest-growing cities in the world for prime retail space, according to the latest research carried out by commercial property agent CBRE.
CBRE's half-yearly report, 'Global Prime Retail Rents', lists Belfast as the eighth fastest-growing location, after the city recorded an 8.7% year-on-year increase in rents for prime retail in the first quarter of 2017.
But the city was beaten in the rankings by its rivals Dublin and London.
As expected, London secured the top spot with 39.1% growth registered year-on-year over the same period in 2017. Russia's St Petersburg claimed second place with rental growth of 15.4%, and the capital cities of New Zealand and Bulgaria - Auckland and Sofia - took joint third and fourth place with 12.5%, respectively.
Dublin was named as the fifth fastest growing location in the world, recording a year-on-year increase of 10.5%, just under 2% more than Belfast.
The report found Ireland's retail sector remains robust, buoyed in particular by continued job creation, strong tourist activity and demographic changes.
It also showed Ireland's retail sales increased by 5% in 2016.
Belfast has seen significant regeneration of key retail locations such as Donegall Place, Arthur Street and Ann Street in recent years.
And food and beverage - thanks to the arrival of new businesses such as Patisserie Valerie and Greggs - have led the way.
With new arrivals, vacancy rates were falling - which was set to lead to an increase of rents.
Alana Coyle, retail director at CBRE said: "As vacancy levels in Belfast's prime locations continued to fall, demand from occupiers resulted in positive rental growth for the first time in a number of years. A lack of supply coupled with strong demand, and the continued decrease in vacancy rates is likely to ensure improved market conditions."
The city has also attracted many shoppers from border regions in Ireland, following the weakness of sterling as a result of the UK's decision to leave the EU.
And the currency differential is expected to continue to attract shoppers from the Republic.
Ms Coyle added: "Going forward, it is important for Belfast to develop and invest in prime retail locations to meet the demand of international retailers seeking to expand into the city.
"Enhancing the retail offering in key locations such as Royal Avenue will prove to be vital in securing and delivering investment into Belfast, particularly with the planned opening of Ulster University's new Belfast campus in 2019, which is expected to increase footfall in the city centre significantly."