Belfast Telegraph

High-street vacancy rate of 14% puts NI at bottom league

By Paul Gosling

Northern Ireland continues to suffer the worst high-street retail vacancy rates in the UK, according to the latest figures produced by the British Retail Consortium and its local associated body, the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium.

Some 14.1% of retail units in Northern Ireland were lying vacant in January. This compared to a UK average of 11.1% and a mere 7.0% in the south-west, which has the lowest vacancy rate.

The closure of 19 Peacocks shops in Northern Ireland exacerbated the problems of the local retail sector, which has already suffered from the recent loss of D2, La Senza and GameStop stores.

Glyn Roberts, CEO of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said: “These figures are a stark illustration of the problems facing our local town and city centres.

“Sadly with nearly a million square feet of out-of-town superstore applications being considered by the DoE, this problem is likely to get much worse if they are granted approval. A new planning policy to support town centres is urgently needed.”

The Assembly’s new Rates (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) introduced measures to protect traditional retail areas. These include the subsidy of small businesses through the large retail levy; 50% rates rebates on long-term empty properties being brought back into use; 50% rebates also for empty shops being used for non-commercial purposes, such as window displays; and clarification on some disputed issues regarding property valuations.

The BRC’s figures did contain some good news, with footfall in Northern Ireland up by more than 7% in the pre-Christmas period compared to 2010. This was the second-best performance of any UK region. Across the UK, footfall improvement was most noticeable in covered shopping centres, which outperformed out-of-town areas and high streets.

But in January, footfall in Northern Ireland was down compared to a year ago in both shopping centres and traditional retail locations, while increasing in out-of-town areas.

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