North reports sharpest footfall growth in the UK as Primark fire recovery continues

Northern Ireland reported the fourth consecutive month of footfall growth in January
Gareth McKeown

RETAIL footfall in the north has continued its recovery in the wake of the Primark fire, posting the largest growth out of all UK regions.

Northern Ireland reported the fourth consecutive month of footfall growth in January according to the Springboard figures, with the uplift of 3.9 per cent sharper than the 2.2 per cent recorded in December.

January was the eight month in the past 12 where footfall growth was reported in Northern Ireland and the improvement is encouraging given the disruption caused by the August 28 Belfast Primark blaze.

The high street recorded a increase of 4.7 per cent in visitors last month, while shopping centre footfall returned to growth (1.7 per cent) for the first time in 16 months.

Trade fell following the Primark blaze last August. Picture by Press Association

The town centre vacancy rate rose marginally in January to 14 per cent, compared to the 13.6 per cent recorded in October and remains well above the UK average (9.9 per cent).

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, Aodhán Connolly said concerns over Brexit and business rates sour the largely positive figures.

“While the 3.9 per cent increase beats both the three and twelve month averages retailers are finding it hard to celebrate in the face of so much uncertainty for their industry," he said.

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, Aodhán Connolly. Picture by Hugh Russell

"As well as obvious concerns on Brexit, they also have serious concerns about the outdated business rates system in Northern Ireland which is unfairly weighted against retailers who pay 24 per cent of business rates despite being only 12 per cent of the economy.

"We have already seen rises in the district rate from Derry and Strabane Council as well as Belfast City Council, with others sure to follow, and we have no idea yet of when the regional rate for business will be struck. This uncertainty and these rises make Northern Ireland a less competitive place to do business."

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director said Northern Ireland is defying the UK trend.

"Unlike the UK as a whole in January which was typified by a significant rise in the first week and then declines for the remainder of the month, in Northern Ireland footfall rose in the first three weeks which averaged +4.6 per cent, and it was only in the last week that footfall declined by -2.2 per cent," she added.



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