Belfast Telegraph

Empty shops blight Northern Ireland high street as summer washout hits trade

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland's shop vacancy rate has reached 17.3%, with high streets also suffering one of their most difficult summers in years.

The number of shoppers on the high street fell by 6.9% last month, according to today's figures from retail analysts Springboard and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium.

It's the most significant drop in numbers in 18 months.

Overall shopper numbers fell by 4.5%, although there was a small rise in business at out-of-town developments. Footfall activity in high streets and shopping centres "has moved in opposite directions", the report's authors said.

And the number of shops lying empty remains significantly higher than elsewhere in the UK, at 17.3% - compared to a UK rate of 9.8%.

Northern Ireland's vacancy rate was up from 16.4%.

While the drop in football throughout the year has been similar to that across the UK as a whole, the last three months here has seen a "noticeable shift downward", according to Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard.

"Over the last three months there has been a noticeable shift downward in footfall in Northern Ireland, culminating in a fall of high street footfall of 6.9% in July, the greatest drop since December 2013," she said.

The latest figures come as the Belfast Telegraph revealed stores here have suffered their worst summer in years, blighted by unseasonal weather and lingering low consumer confidence.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said action should be taken by both retailers and Government to "consider what further steps could be taken".

"This is a rather cheerless set of figures, heralding a second successive spike in the shop vacancy rate in our town centres coupled with a further drop in shopper footfall," he said.

"Almost one out of every six retail premises in Northern Ireland now sits empty. Encouraging shoppers back is crucial to reducing the number of vacant premises, however shopper footfall shrivelled once again in July and for the third successive month. A more concerted effort is required to drive up footfall and further reduce the number of empty retail premises in our town centres."

The figures were branded as "grim" by Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association.

"On the face, these are grim figures and grim statistics. It underlines why the recovery is very fragile and that the retail sector has some way to go," he said.

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