Belfast Telegraph

Newry retailers can keep reaping huge rewards from Brexit

 

By Colin Mathewson, senior director, CBRE

Brexit has remained at the top of the news agenda, for obvious reasons. For many sectors, the uncertainty it has brought has been a challenge, but for others, particularly for retail in border areas like Newry, it has provided a boost.

Shoppers have been flooding into the city from the surrounding district and, crucially, from across the border, as canny buyers from the Republic take advantage of the weaker pound versus the euro to snap up a bargain.

Geography has, in this instance, played a big part, with the city's location on the eastern seaboard of Ireland able to draw on a growing and affluent catchment population of 1.3 million people. The city also has easy road, rail and bus access to its very heart and sits midway between Belfast and Dublin.

This rising tide of shoppers is not a short-term phenomenon, but one which has been apparent for the last number of years in the lead-up to the Brexit vote and in the months since.

With uncertainty surrounding the UK-EU divorce expected to rumble on for many more years, the strategic advantage which Newry has grasped with both hands is here to stay.

Even if the foreign exchange advantage is set to one side, the retail infrastructure which Newry has built is so compelling that it has become a destination in itself.

The Quays Shopping Centre has just completed its £20m phase-five development, which has seen some 100,000 square feet of retail space added to the 375,000 square feet already in place at the shopping centre.

Tellingly, the latest addition has added more big names to its tenant list in the form of Next, Pure Gym and Marks & Spencer.

The latter store opened only last week, bolstering the city's retail credentials in the same week that the retailer announced closures of 14 of its stores across England and Wales.

M&S isn't the only big brand backing the centre, and indeed the city. Sainsbury's, Debenhams, Topshop, H&M and River Island are just a few of the high street stalwarts taking advantage of Newry's retail draw, and many more are queuing up to build a presence in the city.

They are well aware of the developments in Brussels and London on the Brexit negotiations and are eager to back a city which has developed into a retail destination in its own right.

Even talk of a hard border - no matter how unlikely such a scenario is thought to be - has failed to diminish their enthusiasm and has failed to worry shoppers who are intent on big names, variety, ease of access and the accompanying coffee shops and restaurants which have followed the retailers into Newry.

From artisan flat white coffees to sushi rolls, the food and drink offerings are equivalent to any major city.

There's no doubt that in a broader context, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has acted as a drag on growth elsewhere in the Northern Ireland economy, but in many instances businesses are nevertheless managing to put in sterling performances.

That is the case for the retail sector in Newry, although it is blessed with the added advantage that the weaker pound is helping to drive custom and draw big names to the city.

So, while the decision to leave the European Union may be holding some sectors back, for the retailers of Newry the last couple of years have grown increasingly busy and the next few years will be a time to make hay.

Colin Mathewson is a senior director in retail at CBRE

Belfast Telegraph

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