Retail footfall in the north defies UK downturn, but fears Primark loss could impact on growth

Retail footfall in August increased, but there are fears that the fire at Primark in Belfast city centre could soon impact on figures. Picture by Mal McCann.
Gareth McKeown

THE north defied the UK downturn to report an increase in retail footfall last month, but there are fears the loss of Primark from Belfast city centre could soon become an anchor for growth.

The latest Springboard figures show that retail footfall grew by 0.5 per cent in August compared to the same month last year.

The figure is below the three-month average of 1.4 per cent, but better than the twelve-month average of -1.9 per cent.

This was boosted by an increase of 1.4 per cent in visitors to the high street and retail parks, while footfall at shopping centres declined at a slower rate of 2.4 per cent compared to the -5.5 per cent slump recorded in July.

The retail figures in the north contrast those across the UK, where an overall fall of 1.6 per cent was reported in footfall, while Northern Ireland was the only region in the UK to report an increase.

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, Aodhán Connolly believes the ongoing lack of devolved government in the north casts a shadow on the "positive" figures.

"While retailers have bought around £4 billion of Northern Ireland agri-food and our consumers have made around 18 million retail transactions during this period, our politicians at Stormont have done nothing to take the mission critical decisions that our industry and our shoppers need," he said.

"The longer this goes on the longer we will fall behind our neighbours to south and east with no retail strategy, no retail lead official and no protection for our shop workers. In short this political stagnation is making Northern Ireland a much less attractive place to do business.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, added:

“Northern Ireland was the only area of the UK in which footfall rose in August, an improvement on the -0.3 per cent in July. However, footfall in both months is significantly down from the increase in June when footfall rose by 3.6 per cent. Despite the sweltering temperatures during what has been the hottest summer on record, it is a positive fillip to Northern Ireland's retailing that consumers chose to shop rather than to desert retail destinations for leisure attractions and venues."

Despite the positives there are fears the loss of the landmark Primark store at Bank Buildings in Belfast city centre could soon impact on the north's figures, with news this week that the cordon around the building is to remain in place for at least four months, covering the busy Christmas period.

Speaking earlier this week Mr Connolly described the move as "simply devastating" for retailers, while Peter Boyle, who owns Argento - one of the stores within the cordon - called for the Primark facade to be demolished to allow trading to return to normal.

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