Posted on Friday 9 November 2018 by John Mulgrew

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Some areas of Belfast have suffered a 60% drop in shopper numbers in the wake of a fire which gutted the Bank Buildings in the city centre – home to Primark.

Across the city, footfall was down by a third during October.

However, across Northern Ireland footfall rose by 2.7% - bucking the trend across the UK as a whole, which saw a drop of 2%, according to the latest figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium and Springboard.

“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%,” Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said.

“This is in stark comparison with the overall growth in Northern Ireland of 2.7%. 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. But for this to continue we need movement of mission critical decisions such as business rates. “

And Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director, Springboard said the “improvement in Northern Ireland’s vacancy rate over the quarter to 13.6% in October (from 14.4% in July and from 15.2% in October 2017) 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.“

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