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Footfall in Northern Ireland's shopping centres buck UK trend

By John Mulgrew

Norther Ireland's high streets and shopping centres saw massive growth in the run-up to Christmas - outpacing the UK as a whole which suffered a small drop.

But an industry body says the current political crisis "casts a shadow" over the positive figures and that the "Northern Ireland consumer cannot afford for political instability to continue".

Northern Ireland saw footfall grow by 4.6% across the high street, retail parks and shopping centres, according to December figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) and Springboard.

Overall, UK footfall fell by 0.2% in December. And while retail is on the up here, there are concerns in the industry about Northern Ireland's political crisis, according to Aodhan Connolly, director of the NIRC.

"It is encouraging to see that for the second month in a row Northern Ireland has led the UK in footfall growth and that this sparkling growth has been across the board in retail parks, shopping centres and, of significant importance, on our high streets.

"This shows that retailers listened to what consumers wanted, and consumers voted with their feet and their hard earned money. Currently we have no programme for government, nor do we have a budget. What the retail industry needs now is not only certainty but a strategic partnership to deliver, jobs, growth, investment and exports.

"With other administrations in the UK beginning to consider a more coherent approach towards their domestic retail industry we need the Northern Ireland government to do likewise.

"Otherwise we are looking at falling behind our neighbours both to the east and the south."

He said the message is "simple...our industry and the Northern Ireland consumer cannot afford for political instability to continue".

Northern Ireland's high streets saw a 1.5% upsurge in footfall in December.

But the largest levels of growth happened at shopping centre, with a 6.7% boost.

Mark Larsson, investment analyst with wealth management firm Johnston Campbell, said: "This is positive news for the retail sector and comes after many UK high street leaders reported good news for the Christmas period. Northern Ireland has benefited from a large influx of both tourists and southern consumers on the back of the fall in sterling over the second half of 2016."

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