Belfast Primark fire causes retail footfall slump in the north

The Primark fire in Belfast city centre contributed to a 4.6 per cent decline in retail footfall last month. Picture by Hugh Russell
Gareth McKeown

DISRUPTION caused by the recent Primark fire at Bank Buildings has led to a dramatic slump in retail footfall in the north.

The latest Springboard figures show footfall fell by 4.6 per cent in September, a sharper rate of decline than both the three month (-1.7 per cent) and 12 month (-1.9 per cent) averages. The dramatic decline was most acutely felt in Belfast, which suffered from a colossal 30 per cent reduction.

Footfall on the high street and retail parks fell by 6.1 per cent, while shopping centres saw a slight uplift (0.2 per cent) to a decline of -2.2 per cent. The overall slump follows a modest footfall rise of 0.5 per cent recorded in August.

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, Aodhán Connolly said footfall has been clearly hit by the Primark fire on August 28.

"This drastic dip in shopper footfall after two good months comes directly on the back of the fire that affected Primark's flagship store in Belfast City Centre, Northern Ireland's main retail destination," he said.

"This sad occurrence has effectively split Belfast's busiest thoroughfare, and the city centre in two. This is distressing not only for Primark and the fourteen businesses within the cordon who cannot open, but also those in the locale who are affected by the footfall drop and their suppliers."

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard recognised the figures are heavily impacted by the fire and subsequent cordon in Belfast city centre.

"The fire at the Primark store in Belfast which occurred in the first week of the month will have impacted on the monthly result to some degree as Belfast generates the greatest volume of footfall of any destination in Northern Ireland. This is evidenced by a drop in footfall in Belfast of more than -30 per cent, and consequently the sudden downward shift in high street footfall across Northern Ireland in September to -6.1 per cent following four months of consecutive rises."

"At the same time, all indicators point to the fact that footfall is also reflecting the underlying constraints on consumer spend generally. These include the lowest rate of growth in non-food online sales in September since January of 5.4 per cent, which was just half what it was in September 2017, the highest level consumer credit for five years, a recent increase in inflation, a 20 per cent drop in new car sales, which is the worst since 2008, and a rise in house prices that is only a half what it was a year ago," she added.

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