There is little doubt that easing of restrictions and the gradual reopening of the economy has created a more normalised environment in recent months. This has been markedly noticeable in the local property market with renewed demand across most sectors.
It is perhaps little surprise that we are witnessing sustained interest from ‘start-up’ and growing small businesses particularly in the retail and service sectors.
Osborne King has let retail units throughout Belfast city centre and key arterial routes in recent months to new start food and coffee operators, hairdressers, beauticians, gyms and specialised fitness studios.
It seems to me that people have used their lockdown wisely, taking time to re-evaluate their lives, examine their working practices and ponder whether there is scope to take control and do something themselves. It has been a pleasure at times to be part of the journey in helping a new breed of entrepreneur, young or old to realise a dream and get their own business ‘up and running’.
The story outlined above has of course created market activity and benefited many of our clients with often competitive bidding occurring for available units pushing rents on in locations once considered ‘un-lettable’.
Don’t get me wrong, there remain significant headwinds in the high street and there is still a need for lateral thinking from government and private stakeholders alike. The first step though is to properly acknowledge the problem, accept that certain pitches are extinct to rebalance and move on.
The much talked about ‘repurposing’ of retail space is beginning to happen and its being driven by local entrepreneurs willing to take action, but they need help.
The recently announced retail rates initiative is of course welcome but much more local government support is required to turn the tide. Permitted development would be an obvious start, allowing developers to acquire permission for alternative use without the need to get bogged down in our laborious planning processes.
As ever local business is finding a way forward, this is having a positive impact on the number of vacant units, with many entrepreneurs making use of the opportunities that exist in the market.
Richard McCaig is a director at Osborne King