Town centre vacancy rate fell in July but Northern Ireland still worst in UK
Northern Ireland's town centre vacancy rate remains the highest in the UK despite a slight fall during July, a new report from high street monitor Springboard has shown.
According to the monthly snapshot of the retail sector here, some 14.1% of town centre units were empty during July, down from 14.9% in April.
However high street footfall fell by 5.5% during the month, while the numbers visiting shopping centres also dipped by 3.7% in July. The 5% average for Northern Ireland across all types of retail was the worst in the UK.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, described the figures as "dispiriting" for Northern Ireland's bricks-and-mortar retailers.
"The winds of change are blowing through the industry, due to both profound shifts in the way we shop and weakness in consumer demand," he said.
"That said, retailers are increasingly adept at harnessing the internet and multi-channel innovations to get through to consumers who may not have the time or inclination to travel to physical shops.
Mr Connolly said the improving picture for vacancy rates offered "a glimmer of hope", but accepted that the 14.1% rate remains the worst in the UK.
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"Ultimately the success of retailers in this fast changing world will be down to their own ability to evolve and respond positively to the transition in consumer behaviour," he said.
"However, retailers must contend with both the lack of NI Executive and the continued uncertainty over our future trading relationship with the EU, making it harder to adapt to the changing environment."