Hardware giant Screwfix eyeing up Northern Ireland locations
The UK's biggest tools and hardware company Screwfix could be set to expand in Northern Ireland as it eyes up around a dozen new locations across the region, according to one property report.
And according to the latest Lisney Northern Ireland Commercial Property Report, the firm has targeted a total of 18 locations.
Screwfix opened up four stores in January last year, setting up shop in Belfast, Ballymena, Bangor and Newtownabbey - creating 50 jobs. A further three also followed.
It's not clear whether the 18 potential locations include those already up and running.
In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, a spokesman for the company saidl
"Screwfix successfully opened seven stores across Northern Ireland in 2014, in Lurgan, Lisburn, Belfast, Newtownabbey, Bangor, Ballymena and Londonderry.
"While there are currently no new stores planned so far this year, we are continually reviewing the market in Northern Ireland to look for suitable opportunities where we can expand our store network.
"As soon as we have confirmed plans for any future store locations we will share with the local community."
Screwfix operates more than 300 outlets across the UK.
Meanwhile, big name businesses opening up in Belfast helped buoy Northern Ireland's commercial property market last year.
That included US law firm Baker & McKenzie, which announced 250 new jobs in September, and Concentrix - the call centre group which expanded its workforce by 1,000.
And retail vacancy rates in towns and cities across Northern Ireland also dropped in 2014 - down to 17.7%, according to the Lisney Northern Ireland Commercial Property Report.
But that figure is still way off the UK average - with just one in 10 sitting empty last year.
And the level of investment in properties in 2014 was five times the size of that in 2012 - rising to £400m.
According to Declan Flynn, managing director of Lisney, there is increased optimism in the commercial property market in Northern Ireland.
He said the "outlook for 2015 across all sectors remains strong. This year's findings highlight a return of confidence across all sectors, with retail vacancy rates falling, investments in 2014 five times the transaction values of 2012 and strong demand for office accommodation likely to witness a rents rise in 2015," he said.
"The long-awaited rates revaluation will see retail vacancies drop further and the availability of new finance and in many cases new capital will see construction rise significantly."
But Northern Ireland is still suffering from a lack of prime office space, despite witnessing a small rise last year.
That's prompted fears it could have a negative impact on the number of companies wishing to set up shop in Northern Ireland.
And it means rents are likely to rise further this year.
David Wright of CBRE said Northern Ireland - and in particular Belfast - could sustain further office developments to meet growing demand.
"Grade A office space is still an issue, and there has been next to no speculative development over the last few years - with City Quays one of the few," he said.
"That helps to fill the gap, but there are enough requirements circulating around Belfast that mean the market could sustain more development."
Industrial vacancy rates also saw a sizeable fall in 2014 - helped along by big deals, including the sale of the former Massereene Army barracks in Antrim to medical firm Randox. Mr Flynn said an "increasing confidence in retail and office sectors will sustain an appetite from investors" throughout this year and onwards into 2016.