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Boost for Northern Ireland retail parks as vacancy rates fall to lowest in over a decade

By John Mulgrew

Vacancy levels at retail parks in Northern Ireland have fallen to their lowest levels in more than a decade, according to research.

A review by Trevor Wood Associates showed that the number of empty units at out-of-town developments was 8.3% as of the end of 2016.

It said the rate fell by almost a third in the space of a year - with vacancy at 11.9% in the fourth quarter if 2015 - and was at its lowest level since regional records began in 2006.

The results of the report, the Definitive Guide to Retail and Leisure Parks 2017, are being revealed at a presentation this morning at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, hosted by Lambert Smith Hampton.

But vacancy still remains higher in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK.

The retail warehouse vacancy rate, meanwhile, fell to 5.3%, lower than at any time since analysis began in 2001.

Trevor Wood, senior partner of Trevor Wood Associates, said: "The vacancy rate in Northern Ireland is encouraging news and suggests that although struggling retailers continue to be put into administration or entered into a CVA, there is a queue of expanding occupiers ready to take second-hand space.

"Recent openings include The Range in the former B&Q at Braidwater Retail Park in Ballymena, Home Bargains in both Bridgewater Retail Park and Holywood Exchange, and Go Outdoors and Smyths Toys at Valley Retail Park in Newtownabbey. With several other units under offer, the vacancy rate is likely to drop still further."

Ian Henton, retail director of Lambert Smith Hampton, added: "Taken with the company's recent analysis of shopping centres, which also showed upbeat figures, we are optimistic for the future of retail as a whole in Northern Ireland."

One retail park, Junction One, is undergoing a £30m transformation, including a name change.

The Co Antrim development is expanding with 20 new shops, cafes and restaurants and a cinema.

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