Belfast city centre’s 60% fall-off in shopper numbers sparks Christmas appeal
A retail chief has called on the public to support traders in Belfast in the run-up to Christmas as research shows a drop in footfall of over 60% there last month.
The hefty decline in visitors to the city centre compared to October 2017 is largely due to the loss of the Primark store at Bank Buildings, which was destroyed in a fire in August.
Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly said the Belfast figures from the Springboard report were "worrying" for those businesses in the "cordon quarter" surrounding the Primark store.
He appealed to shoppers to "come back to the city centre in their droves" to ensure the survival of traders.
Footfall results elsewhere in Northern Ireland were up by 2.7%.
High streets benefited from a 4% increase in footfall, while shopping centres saw footfall drop by 1%.
"The effects of the Bank Buildings fire still weigh heavy on these latest set of footfall results with some areas of Belfast city centre again seeing year on year drops in shoppers of over 60%. This is in stark comparison with the overall growth in Northern Ireland of 2.7%," he said.
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"Some areas are doing better because of the displacement factor of the fire that has essentially cut the heart of the city centre in two, but these will be worrying figures for those businesses that are around what is being dubbed the cordon quarter.
"With Christmas only weeks away it is imperative that shoppers come back to the city centre in their droves to ensure the survival of these traders."
According to Belfast City Council, the drop in footfall is costing the city centre up to £3m a month and the safety cordon around Bank Buildings has forced 22 organisations to close.
Hopes for traders in the area were raised last week when Primark confirmed its plans to open two new stores in Belfast city centre, with the first commencing trading on December 8.
It will open in its newly-built extension at Castle Street just over a fortnight before Christmas.
The opening will coincide with a new access tunnel allowing pedestrians to walk along the front of Bank Buildings from Donegall Place to Royal Avenue.
Springboard's research also showed that Northern Ireland saw an improvement in shop vacancies from 14.4% in July to 13.3% in October, compared to the UK average of 9.6%.
Mr Connolly added: "One bright light in this gloom is that we now have the lowest shop vacancy rate in over two years, and which is only 4% above the UK average. While this is little consolation to those businesses who have closed in recent weeks, it does show that the Northern Ireland entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well."
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director for Springboard, said the drop in vacancies was led by the hospitality sector.