Belfast Telegraph

Footfall slumps across Northern Ireland shops

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland's high streets, shopping centres and retail parks have suffered a slump in footfall of 2.6%, prompting fresh calls for an end to the political impasse at Stormont.

Shopper numbers in June dropped by as much as 2.9% on the high street, while the UK as a whole posted a small rise in footfall of 0.8%.

That's according to the latest figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC), with Springboard.

The drop in June follows a 2.3% surge in shoppers in May, when Northern Ireland outpaced the rest of the UK regions.

A fall of 2.9% was seen in retail parks, with a 1.9% drop in shopping centres.

There must now be "new consumer confidence", clarity on the impact of Brexit, and the Executive must get back up-and-running to help alleviate the "disappointing" figures, according to NIRC director Aodhan Connolly.

"This is a disappointing performance in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK, with our shopper footfall figures again being rock bottom of the league table," he said.

"Northern Ireland saw the fastest decline on the high street of the regions, of 2.9%.

"An identical fall of 2.9% was seen in retail parks and 1.9% drop in shopping centres.

"What we need now is renewed consumer confidence and greater certainty about the future, and some political leadership would assist.

"The EU has been making progress on its Brexit position and with formal negotiations started, there is no time to waste.

"As the only part of the UK that has a land border with the eurozone, we need the Westminster Government to secure a fair Brexit for consumers in Northern Ireland by ensuring that ordinary shoppers aren't hit with the cost of unwanted new tariffs."

And he said a return to stable devolved government is needed to help improve business in Northern Ireland.

"There must be some bold decisions taken on the future of the outdated, costly and inequitable business rates system. It simply is not tenable for retail to be 12% of the economy, yet pay over 22% of business rates.

"Retailers here in Northern Ireland have also been paying into the apprenticeship levy for several months now, without any clarity over how it will be spent or how to access the monies which we continue to pay in."

And Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director, Springboard, said the fall in footfall - in contrast to a rise in the UK - was not always reflected in sales.

She said: "Sales are presenting a very varied picture, dependent on the breadth of the measure used and inflationary pressures which push sales values up.

"In recent months, we have seen rising footfall in the hours after 5pm, illustrating the growing trend towards leisure trips after retail trading hours, demonstrated by the rise in hospitality sales of 0.3% in June.

"The weather across the UK was far better than in June last year, which supported the increase in footfall during daytime hours and generally encourages consumers to visit bricks and mortar destinations, particularly external environments such as high streets.

"However, it appears that this was not the case in Northern Ireland, where the long-term trend of footfall volatility in Northern Ireland predominates, with a drop in June following two consecutive months of growth in April and May."

In Northern Ireland, footfall grew in May, based on the same period a year earlier.

At the time, Mr Connolly said that taking a "longer term look at footfall in Northern Ireland the enduring characteristic is one of volatility".

Across the UK, high streets took a battering in May, dropping by 2%.

And across all shopping areas, there was a fall of 1%.

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