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Shoppers in North stay at home amid Brexit concerns

Report shows 5.3% decline in footfall last month despite lure of cross-border bargains

Victoria Shopping Centre in Belfast. Despite the reduction in shoppers, the town centre vacancy rate in the North fell to 14.5 per cent last month. Photograph: David Sleator

Worries about Brexit may be dampening consumers’ enthusiasm to hit the shops in the North a leading trade body is warning as new figures show fewer people went out shopping in towns and cities last month.

Latest research from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) shows the North suffered one of the largest falls in shopper footfall during October compared to other parts of the UK.

Despite the lure of cross-border bargains attracting euro shoppers to border cities and towns, overall shopper footfall fell in Northern Ireland by 5.3 per cent year-on-year in October.

According to the NIRC the sharp decline last month shows the second consecutive monthly drop in shopper numbers and was steeper than the three-month average of -2.1 per cent and the 12-month average of -2 per cent.

But Aodhán Connolly, director of the NIRC, said its latest research is “something of a mixed bag” because it also shows a “welcome” drop in the town centre vacancy rate in the North which fell to 14.5 per cent last month.

“The footfall figures are less encouraging with Northern Ireland being the worst performing area of the UK. These figures show how even small amounts of uncertainty can change consumer behaviour especially when we take into account that household discretionary income in Northern Ireland is around half of the UK average.

“That is why the NIRC is calling for negotiators to put consumers first in the forthcoming Brexit talks by ensuring their sights are firmly set on keeping shop prices low once the UK leaves the European Union,” Mr Connolly added.

Retail park rejuvenation

Meanwhile a Northern Ireland property group has announced plans for a £30 million redevelopment project at a prominent retail park which it claims could generate an additional 475 jobs for County Antrim.

The Banbridge headquartered Lotus Group wants to “reinvigorate” the Junction One retail and leisure park on the outskirts of Antrim.

The group together with London-based Tristan Capital Partners paid in the region of £40 million to acquire Junction One and the Outlet retail park in Banbridge, earlier this year.

Alastair Coulson, the Lotus Group’s asset and property management director, said it hopes the redevelopment of Junction One will deliver jobs and new opportunities for the Antrim area.

“We expect that further investment will be triggered off the back of this redevelopment and indirect benefits will be numerous for the local supply chain and local area,” Mr Coulson said.