Shop vacancies in Northern Ireland at six-year low, but still highest in UK
Vacancy rates across Northern Ireland's high streets have fallen to a six-year low, new figures have revealed.
But the 14% rate of empty businesses still remains the highest in the UK, and Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) says "so much more needs to be done to reduce this further and support an industry which employs over 80,000 directly and many thousands more through the supply chain".
The latest footfall figures show a drop of 0.2% in Northern Ireland in January. That followed two months of growth, according to figures from the NIRC and Springboard.
The high streets saw a rise in shopper numbers, up 2.5%, but total footfall was pulled down by a 3% drop at shopping centres. However, overall, the UK suffered a larger drop in shopper numbers on average, falling by 1.3%.
"While we have had a very slight drop in overall footfall after two consecutive months of growth it still encouraging to see that footfall continued to rise in our high streets," Mr Connolly said.
"The real good news story is the continued fall in the shop vacancy rate which is now the lowest it has been since 2011. The drop to 14% means that we have now had three consecutive quarters of fall in the vacancy rate."
But he said the next new Executive must "put the consumer first during the Brexit negotiations".
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director for Springboard, said the overall UK drop "may be a sign of tougher things to come for 2017".
"It was the steepest decline since June 2016, when footfall was impacted in the preceding weeks and in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum."