Belfast Telegraph

Commercial property picture a little brighter

By Margaret Canning

The buzz which surrounded transactions in the retail sector in 2014 will be hard to replicate this year.

But law firm Arthur Cox has said it believes there will be a surge of activity as the year progresses, despite a fairly quiet start in which Parker Green's refinancing of its Quays Shopping Centre loans has been the highlight.

There have been a few new entrants to the high street in Northern Ireland, with value jeweller Warren James opening the first of three stores in the province with a unit in CastleCourt Shopping Centre.

At the higher end of the market, designer Michael Kors is opening a store in Victoria Square Shopping Centre.

But in tandem with such spurts of activity, there have been bleaker interludes. A year ago, despite Tesco’s difficulties and embarrassments, no one could have predicted that it would be closing stores and rowing back on decades of expansion.

That has left the Belfast shopping centre Connswater on difficult ground — a predicament made even worse when Irish chain Dunnes closed its store at short notice.

However, there is some brighter news for Connswater today as optician Specsavers moves to larger premises, creating seven jobs.

And when looking at the overall picture, the commercial property industry would urge that we look on the bright side. We are likely to see transactions resulting from the outworking of some of the big property loan portfolio sales last year.

Even though we are facing severe cuts to public expenditure, our political situation and powersharing is fairly stable — though of course the general election in May could upset the wider economic picture.

The idea that two years ago we are in the throes of disruptive and damaging flag protests is almost inconceivable. 

It’s unthinkable now that a retailer could be put off opening up in Northern Ireland by images of protests on national TV news.

But we are still lagging behind the rest of the UK in many respects. Our claimant and economic inactivity counts are higher than they should be, along with youth unemployment.

Retail is an important barometer of how we are doing — which means it exerts a great fascination on nearly all of us.

Belfast Telegraph

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