Posted on Monday 20 May 2013 by Ulster Business

 Belfast Streets 201009 043

Footfall on Northern Ireland's high streets saw a steep drop in April, even as the number of shoppers across the UK as a whole edged higher during the month.

Figures released today by the British Retail Consortium showed that in April, shopper numbers in Northern Ireland were 6.4% lower than a year ago, a worse result than the 4.0% decline in March 2013.

In contrast, the UK-wide measurement showed footfall had risen by 1% when compared to the same month last year, the strongest performance since December 2011. Footfall in Wales was down 2.1% but Scotland saw a slight increase.

The statistics also showed that the number of empty shops in local towns and cities remains higher than the UK average, with the vacancy rate increasing to 18.1% from 17.2% in January 2013. The national town centre vacancy rate in the UK stands at 11.9%.

Aodhán Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said: "What's most worrying here is that there aren't underlying factors to explain away this steep drop in shopper numbers. There were no protests in April and the weather was milder than the snow-hit March, but footfall should have gone up with temperatures, not down. Instead it's taken a further hit, slumping down to the lowest rate in the UK.

"And the vacancy rate adds to retailers' woes, rising again in this quarter so that we're risking a return to last year's record high, when one in five shops in Northern Ireland stood empty.

"Fewer shops and fewer shoppers makes this quarter's figures doubly disappointing. What is needed now is a plan of action, with government and the retail industry working together to provide tangible solutions that will kick-start retail again, supporting our economy and creating much-needed jobs. In the coming weeks, we will be meeting with our colleagues across the retail sector to see how we can make a difference."

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