Footfall in Belfast continues to plummet after Primark fire

Footfall in Belfast continues to plummet in the aftermath of the Primark fire.

The retailer's former store at Bank Buildings, a B1-listed building in the heart of the city centre, was badly damaged in a major fire in August.

The result of the Primark fire

The result of the Primark fire

The area around the building has been cordoned off since the blaze for public safety, and city centre footfall has seen declines of over 60% following the blaze.

Covering the four weeks from September 30 to October 27, footfall grew by 2.7% in Northern Ireland overall, above the three-month average of -0.8% and the 12-month average of -1.2%.

Footfall rose on the High Street by 4%, while it declined in shopping centres by 1%, a deeper fall than the -0.2% in September.

Northern Ireland saw an improvement in vacancies from 14.4% in July to 13.3% in October, above the UK average of 9.6%.

Primark fire

Primark fire

Aodhan Connolly, director of Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said the effects of the fire were still being felt in the capital.

"The effects of the Bank Buildings fire still weigh heavy on these latest set of footfall results, with some areas of Belfast city centre again seeing year on year drops in shoppers of over 60%," he said.

"This is in stark comparison with the overall growth in Northern Ireland.

"Some areas of Northern Ireland are doing better because of the displacement factor of the fire that has essentially cut the heart of the city centre in two but these will be worrying figures for those businesses that are around what is being dubbed the cordon quarter.

"With Christmas only weeks away it is imperative that shoppers come back to the city centre in their droves to ensure the survival of these traders.

"One bright light in this gloom is that we now have the lowest shop vacancy rate in over two years, and which is only 4% above the UK average.

"While this is little consolation to those businesses who have closed in recent weeks, it does show that the Northern Ireland entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.

"Now that more powers have been devolved to our civil servants, we need them to immediately take action to make Northern Ireland a more competitive place to do business."

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said the Northern Ireland contrast with the UK was a marker of volatility in the region.

"This, together with the result of -2% for the UK as a whole, not only reflects the ongoing challenges that the retail sector is facing but illustrates that the challenges for retailers have been ongoing as we moved through the year," she said.

"As we head into the key trading period of the year, it suggests that Christmas could be challenging.

"At the same time, the improvement in Northern Ireland's vacancy rate over the quarter to 13.6% in October is further evidence that the offer in bricks and mortar destinations is shifting to better accommodate continued consumer demand for experience-led visits.

"The catalyst was the growth in demand for hospitality and, while this is continuing despite the fact that the growth in eating out visits has slowed since the heady days of 2015, it has opened up opportunities for the introduction of more diverse experience and leisure led propositions in destinations that ultimately may well broaden the definition of retail."

In a recent planning application, Primark outlined their intention to "restore and reconstruct the building with a minimal loss of historic fabric as is practically possible to retain historic authenticity".