Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland high street footfall down in spite of improvement in shop vacancy rate

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's shop vacancy rate has improved despite a fall in footfall last month, a survey said today.

The Springboard research said footfall in Northern Ireland's shops was down 5% during October, decreasing for the second month in a row.

The year-on-year fall in Northern Ireland compared to a 0.4% decrease in the UK as a whole - and at 5.3%, was steeper than the three-month average of 2.1%.

The province's shop vacancy rate was 14.5%, which was down from 15.3% in July - but still the highest rate of anywhere in the UK.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said the October results were typical of volatile footfall in the province. But she said footfall in shopping centres had grown for the fourth month in a row - with a 0.4% October increase - "a much improved position from a decline of -0.9% in October 2015".

She added: "Whilst a boost in luxury sales due to the weak pound has been widely reported, this is not reflected in increased footfall as it is driven by higher value purchases."

And she said the fall in vacancy rate was good news for Northern Ireland: "The vacancy rate always lags behind trends in footfall and sales due to the stickiness of the property market, and so the improvement is likely to be a response to rises in high street footfall that occurred over the summer.

"In order to avoid an increase in vacancies post-Christmas, it is critical for retailers - and retail destinations - to deliver the best in class in terms of both price and experience."

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said the figures were a "mixed bag". But he said he hoped the fall in vacancy rate would prove a lasting trend.

"It shows that our members are, even in uncertain economic times, more than willing to create jobs in retail and support other areas of the economy that rely on our industry. Our commitment to Northern Ireland has never been stronger.

"However, our industry faces considerable business cost headwinds, many of which are policy driven and which deter investment. We would urge the NI Executive to do whatever it can through the Programme for Government and associated Budget to reduce the escalating cost burden on our members."

Belfast Telegraph