Closed shops and offices illustrate challenge of reviving town centres

GeoView commercial property report estimates 13% vacancy rates due to pandemic

If more people work from home, they will also shop more from home. Photograph: Getty Images

If more people work from home, they will also shop more from home. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The latest GeoView commercial property report illustrates the nature of the challenge facing Government as it grapples with the task of reviving towns and cities after the pandemic.

The Q2 GeoView report measures vacancy rates in commercial properties. Of the 211,739 commercial properties in the State, GeoView estimates that 13.6 per cent were vacant, with the number of empty properties rising in 18 out of 26 counties over the last 12 months.

The highest vacancy rate recorded by GeoView was a staggering 20 per cent in Sligo, with the lowest rate in Meath at 10.3 per cent. In and around the Dublin and Leinster regions, the rate hovers a little over 12 per cent. Across Connaught as a whole, the commercial property vacancy rate is 17.2 per cent.

According to GeoView, the decline in the retail and wholesale sector is responsible for much of the deteriorating picture. The pandemic has accelerated the shift to online shopping, resulting in increasing numbers of shuttered shop fronts on main streets across the State.

Even the highest-profile retail districts of the capital have been affected. Both Grafton Street and Henry Street, Dublin’s two most important shopping streets, are scarred with vacancies.

Reluctance

The problem for policymakers is compounded by stubbornly high coronavirus infection rates and how this feeds the reluctance of some workers to go back to their offices. The trend of working from home is here to stay for many people in the longer term.

The Government feels compelled to bring in some sort of a regulatory framework to give workers protection regarding this issue. This will make the job of reviving towns and cities harder, however. If the Government brings in legal protections for employees who want to continue to work at home, it will encourage more of them to do it. If more people work from home, they will also shop more from home.

Offices and retail outlets may continue to close across the State. This will not be an easy problem for policymakers to solve.

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