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Brexit: Northern Ireland retail sector set for years of uncertainty, say experts

By Margaret Canning

Brexit is already hitting the retail market in Northern Ireland - and it may be up to five years before the full implications become clear, it has been claimed.

The commercial property market in general could also be affected in the short term by the UK's decision to vote for Brexit, commercial property agents said.

Eamonn Murphy of Murphy Surveyors, which matches retailers to vacant stores, said there had been around 40 new retail openings around the province last year, when the rates revaluation had brought rates and rents down.

But in comparison, this year so far had seen just a handful of new arrivals. Last year's new retail openings in Belfast city centre included Danish discount chain Tiger, a relocation by clothing giant Gap, an extension by fashion store Zara and new openings from shoe brands Skechers as well as Schuh for Kids.

But this year, new retail arrivals have been more scarce, Mr Murphy said. Stradivarius - a sister brand of Spanish fashion giant Zara - is one of few companies opening new stores here, with a unit in Donegall Place to open shortly. Mr Murphy said any Republic of Ireland retailers aspiring to open in Northern Ireland would be watching currency fluctuations closely.

"A southern retail chain might be thinking that they'll have to adjust their prices or profits margins to get a good return and make an opening in Northern Ireland worthwhile."

And overall, he said the retail sector was in for a period of uncertainty. "There will be a rebalancing over the next two and a half to five years."

And he said shoppers from the Republic could start coming back to seek out bargains in Northern Ireland, taking advantage of the pound's weakness.

"You could have people coming right up and bypassing Newry, so that you have the benefit of southern shoppers in Sprucefield Shopping Centre, Lisburn and Belfast.

"So a combination of retail and leisure weekends away could have a really positive effect."

Miles Gibson, head of UK research at commercial property agents CBRE, said economic confidence would taken an immediate - but not necessarily significant - hit.

That could affect decisions by manufacturers, retailers and office suppliers. "We foresee hesitancy among occupiers, which we think is not likely to be fully offset by the upsides (such as a cheaper currency, or a delay in interest rate rises)."

He said big investors in property - such as financial services companies - could start formal considerations as to whether they would move location to benefit from single market access.

Global banking Citigroup, which occupies flagship offices in Belfast's Titanic Quarter, is among firms which said ahead of the referendum that they would consider moving out of the UK in the event of Brexit.

Belfast Telegraph

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