Vacant NI shops twice the UK average

One in five local shops is empty, according to the NIRC Shop Vacancy survey.

It’s the highest rate in the UK – and if not for charity and pop up shops high streets would look pock marked with empty premises.

With the Christmas shopping season getting into full swing, Aodhan Connolly from the Retail Consortium told UTV many business owners will be concerned.

“The good news is that footfall is up – but by the same token questions need to be asked as to why that is not translating into sales,” he said.

“We did have a bit of growth for September but now, coming into Christmas, it is a very worrying time for retailers as far as what people are spending goes.”

The news comes after new national figures revealed disappointing trading in October.

But some shops are fighting back.

Delicatessan Sawers invested £100,000 recently to expand their offering in central Belfast.

“Times are tough,” the store told UTV.

“What we’ve done is move into new premises and it has been like starting a new business. We have attracted a new clientele and taking that risk seems to be working for us.”

Donald McFetridge, retail analyst with the University of Ulster said that the real threat to high street shopping is online.

“Advertising campaigns and potential traffic chaos are not going to be the key determinants of Christmas success or failure in the retail trade this year,” he said.

“Online sales are already booming and this trend is set to continue. International analysts are predicting that, this year, online will really knock the socks of the high street and, for this reason, I can understand why city traders are, not unnecessarily, worried.”

Meanwhile the NI Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) is pushing for the Executive to take urgent action in light of Monday’s “alarming” figures.

“Belfast already has one in four shops vacant and the overall trend is moving toward a quarter of all shops being vacant by the middle of 2013,” Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said.

“While these figures are alarming, our focus has to be on solutions to this growing problem. The Executive is making good progress on Rates and Car Parking but has still not produced a strong planning policy to support town centre retailing.

“The Executive needs a new joined up strategy to tackle this problem, alongside comprehensive retail development plans for each town and city to reverse this decline. NIIRTA has already published a 50 point plan, Town Centre First, setting out our ideas and we will continue to bring solutions to Ministers on this issue.”

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