The vacancy rate in Northern Ireland fell to 14.0 per cent in January from 14.5 per cent in October 2016 though footfall rate also fell by 0.2 per cent in January, after two consecutive months of footfall growth.
The figures come from the latest survey carried out by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and its local counterpart the NIRC which shows that footfall grew on the high street in January, but fell in retail parks and shopping centres.
“While we have had a very slight drop in overall footfall after two consecutive months of growth it still encouraging to see that footfall continued to rise in our high streets,” said NIRC director Aodhán Connolly.
“The real good news story for Northern Ireland is the continued fall in the shop vacancy rate which is now the lowest it has been since 2011. The drop to 14% means that we have now had three consecutive quarters of fall in the vacancy rate.
Mr Connolly said current proposals for the reform of business rates needed to go much further by widening the tax base, bringing revaluations into a three-year cycle and by gradually lowering the headline rate.
“With other administrations in the UK beginning to consider a more coherent approach towards their domestic retail industry we need the NI government to do likewise by bringing forth a retail strategy,” he said.
“Otherwise we are looking at falling behind our neighbours both to the east and the south.
“We also need the new Executive to put the consumer first during the Brexit negotiations. Our households already have only around half of the discretionary income of our counterparts in GB and that is why we need the Assembly to make the case for tariff free trade to negotiators and to put consumers first in the forthcoming Brexit talks by ensuring their sights are firmly set on keeping shop prices low once the UK leaves the EU.”