Belfast Telegraph

Belfast's Victoria Square shop closures present opportunity, says centre management

Just under a dozen units empty at city centre mall

By John Mulgrew

Almost a dozen retail and restaurant units lie empty at Victoria Square following a series of closures at the Belfast shopping centre.

A decade on from the centre's opening, a raft of big name retailers have pulled down the shutters in the last few months.

And the property agents for the shopping centre said "while it is disappointing when any tenant chooses not to renew a lease, any vacancies in Victoria Square simply present further opportunities".

Between the two main retail floors at the centre, eight are now vacant. It's understood some businesses are coming to the end of long-term leases.

McDonald's announced this week it is pulling out of the centre. Also sitting vacant is the former Spur restaurant site, and another former restaurant unit.

Last week the Belfast Telegraph reported that two jeans brands, Levi's and Pepe, had both pulled down the shutters in January.

Mobile phone brands Vodafone and O2 also both shut their doors last month. Criona Collins, head of retail at Lambert Smith Hampton, which represents the centre, said: "In the past 10 years Victoria Square has brought a number of new brands to Northern Ireland for the first time, brands which would previously not have considered coming to Belfast.

"While it is disappointing when any tenant chooses not to renew a lease, any vacancies in Victoria Square simply present further opportunities to bring other new and exciting brands to the city and to refresh and enhance the offering we provide to shoppers in Northern Ireland.

"There continues to be significant interest in Victoria Square from retailers and we look forward to announcing new retailers to the scheme in the coming months."

The centre plays host to some of the biggest brands in Belfast.

That includes House of Fraser, Apple, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger and Hollister.

Meanwhile, across Northern Ireland as a whole, the number of vacant shops has fallen despite a reduction in footfall for an eighth consecutive month, new figures show.

The overall shop vacancy rate was 14.3%, down from 15.2% in October 2017.

However, it is still the highest rate of anywhere in the UK.

Speaking following the publication of the latest footfall figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC), with Springboard, NIRC director Aodhan Connolly said: "For the UK as a whole the decline in shopper footfall is at its fastest pace in almost five years and in part reflects the profound structural challenges facing the retail industry as shopping habits continue to evolve.

"However, while Northern Ireland did not fare as poorly as other parts of the UK, this further drop in footfall here means we have now witnessed seven months of consecutive decline and which has been felt across high streets, retail parks and shopping centres.

"These figures are indicative of how challenging and uncertain 2017 has been for both the retail industry and for consumers.

"Political instability, the enormity of Brexit unfolding, disposable incomes being squeezed, and ongoing profound changes in the way people shop have all added to the uncertainty.

"If this past year has taught us anything, it's that change and uncertainty may be the only certainty for 2018.

"We know, too, that retailers are resilient and adaptable."

Mr Connolly added that the "restoration of devolved government at Stormont would provide a welcome confidence boost, allowing the concerns of Northern Ireland business and consumers to be championed by a working Assembly and Executive".

Belfast Telegraph

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