High street foot fall up 4% as NI bucks trend

Belfast Telegraph - - BUSINESS - BY MAR­GARET CAN­NING

THE lo­cal high street bucked UK trends with a 4.1% rise in foot­fall for De­cem­ber, in­clud­ing a “spec­tac­u­lar” show­ing in Belfast, a re­port said to­day.

It was the only UK re­gion to re­port a rise in high street foot­fall. But the sur­vey by data ser­vice Spring­board said shop­ping cen­tre foot­fall was down 3.7% year on year.

De­cem­ber marked the third month of growth in foot­fall here.

Aod­han Con­nolly, di­rec­tor of the North­ern Ire­land Re­tail Con­sor­tium, said the sur­vey was a “great boost” and meant that foot­fall had risen for seven of the last 12 months.

But he said the re­tail sec­tor would still ben­e­fit from an Ex­ec­u­tive at Stor­mont, which could re­solve con­cerns on is­sues such as busi­ness rates and the ap­pren­tice­ship levy.

“We are fall­ing be­hind the rest of the UK be­cause we have no Assem­bly or Ex­ec­u­tive which is mak­ing us less com­pet­i­tive now and for fu­ture in­vest­ment. We would be a bet­ter place for busi­ness in 2019 if we had an Ex­ec­u­tive to take the bold de­ci­sions needed to al­low us to sus­tain and grow.”

He said last month had started slowly but shop­pers had gone on to make the most of pre-Christ­mas of­fers, par­tic­u­larly in Belfast where sep­a­rate fig­ures showed the city en­joyed a 37.8% in­crease in year-on-year foot­fall for the week be­gin­ning De­cem­ber 24.

Mr Con­nolly said Belfast may have ben­e­fited from a cam­paign call­ing for sup­port for re­tail­ers after the dev­as­tat­ing fire at Pri­mark at the end of Au­gust. A cor­don was put in place as a re­sult of the blaze, and while it has been re­duced in size, Mr Con­nolly said some traders just out­side the cor­don could still be feel­ing the pain.

“As it’s been a few months since the Bank Build­ings fire it does not gar­ner as many head­lines, but sup­port is needed more than ever for the busi­nesses in the cor­don quar­ter. Jan­uary to March are tra­di­tion­ally lean months even in good years so this trad­ing pe­riod needs to be es­pe­cially good in 2019,” he said.

Diane Wehrle, mar­ket­ing and in­sights di­rec­tor at Spring­board, said the de­cline in shop­ping cen­tre foot­fall was in line with a fall of 3.8% across the UK.

She said shop­ping cen­tres tended to be dom­i­nated by big­name re­tail­ers, which had in­tro­duced pre-Christ­mas dis­count­ing. “If noth­ing else is learnt from De­cem­ber 2018, it is that dis­count­ing is se­verely erod­ing the strength of Christ­mas as a ma­jor trad­ing pe­riod,” she said.

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