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Northern Ireland saw 0.5% rise in high street shoppers in July

Published 15/08/2016

Northern Ireland's vacancy rate for premises fell to 15% in July as the consumer-driven economy appeared to turn a corner
Northern Ireland's vacancy rate for premises fell to 15% in July as the consumer-driven economy appeared to turn a corner

The number of high street shoppers in Northern Ireland increased by 0.5% last month, retailers said.

This was the second time in three months footfall has risen and reversed a year-long trend of falling numbers.

Northern Ireland's vacancy rate for premises fell to 15% in July as the consumer-driven economy appeared to turn a corner.

Better weather, discounting and spending from overseas visitors taking advantage of the weak pound contributed, a retail expert said.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: "These results are heartening for Northern Ireland's retail industry, with a welcome reduction in the shop premises vacancy rate after a slight dip last quarter as well as a small but still significant rise in footfall.

"Indeed footfall has risen in two of the past three months showing that retailers are meeting head on the structural changes to the industry including the ongoing popularity of online retailing.

"While again it is encouraging to see vacancy rates fall in two of the past three quarters, it remains to be seen whether this reflects units being taken up on a temporary or more sustained basis."

He said retailers' prospects are ultimately determined by the state of the economy, the balance between their income and costs and their own ability to adapt and seize on the opportunities that arise.

"These are testing times for the industry, which is one of Northern Ireland's largest private sector employers, and the Stormont Executive and MLAs can assist by taking tangible action in the upcoming detailed Programme for Government to bolster consumer and business sentiment.

"Retailers will be looking for a clear road map for future tax and regulatory changes, a tight lid on personal and business tax rates and charges and for clear leadership on how those who pay into the apprenticeship levy can fully draw down on those funds for their staff no matter what their age or skills requirements."

He called for certainty around Brexit.

Diane Wehrle, a director at retail analysts Springboard, said better weather and end-of-sale discounting of up to 70% off contributed to the improved fortunes.

She said: "Some high streets saw the changes in exchange rates produce increased spend from overseas visitors who could get incredible value with seasonal sales and strong exchange rates providing an unbeatable shopping offer."

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