Northern Ireland town shops vacancy rate jumps in past two months
The shop vacancy rate in towns across Northern Ireland accelerated from 14% to 14.9% between March and April, new analysis has suggested.
The monthly report from high street monitor Springboard said the vacancy rate had hit the highest level since October 2017.
However, footfall data suggested Northern Ireland's retail centres continued to outperform the rest of the UK. The 0.5% rise was the ninth month of growth in the past 12 here, above the UK average decline of 0.5%.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, said while footfall appeared to reflect slight growth, last year's "terrible" April results provided an easy target to outperform.
"The big disappointment here is the rise in vacancy rates to its highest level in two years. "This is a symptom of the increasing pressures that retailers face, pressures that are being added to by a lack of political leadership."
The retail spokesman said that the business community wants the ongoing political talks at Stormont to deliver progress. Last week the Department of Finance announced a major review into business rates.
Mr Connolly said: "The longer we are without a functioning Assembly, the further we fall behind our neighbours to the east and south. We are already playing catch up on business rates reform where our businesses pay 12p in the pound more than the UK average.
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"Our members believe that devolved government is best for Northern Ireland PLC but our politicians must put economics before ideology, so we can have an Executive and ministers to take the bold decisions that will allow retail reinvention and prevent retail Armageddon."