Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland bucks trend as footfall rises on our high streets unlike rest of UK

By Jamie Stinson

Northern Ireland has bucked the trend across the UK as it saw a much-needed boost in the number of shoppers flocking to the high street.

Footfall figures for the retail market rose year-on-year as consumer confidence returned.

While the UK saw a 0.5% fall, Northern Ireland witnessed an increase of 1.3% on last year's figure for February, according to Springboard.

The increase in based on the poor figures Northern Ireland suffered in 2014.

The growth has been driven by an increase of 1.7% in high street footfall, and 0.3% rise in numbers at shopping centres.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said: "The resumption of growth in shopper footfall last month is good news especially after a dip in footfall in January."

He said the rise has been driven by an increase in consumer confidence.

"Part of it is a bounce back from last year's figures, which weren't great, and more consumer confidence in Northern Ireland. However, it's whether this will continue considering the political situation."

As the pound gets stronger against the euro, retailers are now faced with the problem of consumers crossing the border to shop, as their money goes further in the Republic.

"The euro is something that is concerning for us. What we can say is retailers will be ready to make the best of it if we can," Mr Connolly said.

The retail sector in the province has seen falling output since last September, due to the drop in cross-border trade, the Ulster Bank Purchasing Managers' Index survey found.

While the footfall figures are positive, politicians need to address problems in the market, Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said. "These are clearly positive figures and show an overall improving retail sector in Northern Ireland.

"However, the big challenge for the Executive and super councils is addressing Northern Ireland's extremely high rate of shop vacancies.

"Having nearly twice the UK national average in shop vacancies requires a new comprehensive vacancy strategy and integrated town centre retail plan.

"This should be the top priority of the new councils when they go live on April 1."

Diane Wehrle of Springboard said while there has been an upturn, the retail sector in Northern Ireland has been known for being up and down.

"Volatility in footfall is a key characteristic of activity in Northern Ireland's retail destinations, and emanates from high streets which are challenged with notable rises in footfall - while shopping centres have recorded a steady improvement over the last year and consistently positive growth in footfall for the past three months," she said.

Belfast Telegraph

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