Shop vacancies deteriorate as NI footfall improves

NIRC director Aodh�n Connolly
NIRC director Aodh�n Connolly

Retail footfall in the province enjoyed its first growth of the year rising by 0.1% in April over the same month in 2016 according to the latest statistics from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC).

Though modest, the figure is well above the three-month average of -2.7 per cent and the twelve-month average of -0.4 per cent.

In April, footfall fell on the high street and in retail parks in Northern Ireland, but showed the strongest growth in footfall to shopping centres in the UK.

On a more negative note the report produced in conjunction with Springboard, said the town centre vacancy rate rose to 14.4% in April from 14% in January, above the UK average of 9.3% and the highest rate of all the UK nations and regions.

“These results are something of a mixed bag for NI’s retailers,” said NIRC director Aodhán Connolly.

“The unwelcome but modest rise in the NI shop vacancy rate is still significant when you take into account the tiny growth in footfall.

“While any growth in shopper footfall is welcome, this has been largely driven by our shopping centres which had the strongest growth across the UK.

“With the positive distortion because of a late Easter, these figures should really have been better.

“The current domestic political uncertainty is leading to economic uncertainty not just for our industry but for Northern Ireland consumers.

“To be frank, it is high time for Northern Ireland’s politicians to get back round the table, thrash out a governing arrangement and crack on with delivering reformed rates, providing leadership on Brexit, and making Northern Ireland a more competitive place to do business. The current stalemate is not delivering for anyone.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard said: “

“The vacancy rate in Northern Ireland weakened slightly, moving to 14.4 per cent from 14.0 per cent in January. And whilst the UK rate strengthened marginally from 9.4 per cent in January to 9.3 per cent, vacancies in eight of the ten geographic areas of the UK rose, with improvements only in London, the East and the North and Yorkshire.”