Rise in NI's vacant shops

Published Tuesday, 25 September 2012
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Almost one quarter of shops in Belfast are lying vacant, while elsewhere in Northern Ireland the number of unused shop premises has also increased.

Rise in NI's vacant shops
Empty shop premises are on the rise in Northern Ireland. (© UTV)

In Newry and Coleraine, the vacancy rate has almost doubled in the last year, from 9.7% to 20% and 11.2% to 21.2% respectively.

On the whole, Northern Ireland has a significantly higher number of empty premises in comparison to the rest of the UK.

Nineteen per cent of the region's retail units lie empty - the UK average is 11.4%.

The new research was revealed by commercial property agency Lisney on Tuesday.

Craigavon remains the town/city with the lowest vacancy rate, but it has not escaped the wrath of the recession with a substantial hike from 3.6% to 9.1%.

A major issue for retailers continues to be the high level of business rates in prime locations, the research found, and demand for shop units remains thin.

Lisney Managing Director, Declan Flynn said: ""We have a situation where the level of business rates levied on shops is completely decoupled from the commercial realities of rents and the trading performance of the retailer.

"This is unsustainable and will continue to be a significant factor in administrations and rising vacancies, unless addressed."

Dublin fares much better than Belfast in terms of office space with the take-up rate over six times higher.

Occupiers are indicating that they are choosing for Republic of Ireland over Northern Ireland due to its more competitive corporation tax level.

Mr Flynn continued: "We still haven't seen a decision on a reduction in corporation tax. Designating Northern Ireland as an Enterprise Zone is another potential option to boost the economy and help make us more competitive. In the areas of GB in which Enterprise Zones exist, they provide a streamlined planning system, tax incentives and business rates relief.

"What is clear is that if nothing is done, the issues identified in this research will become even more acute, and Northern Ireland will continue to lose major potential occupiers to the Republic of Ireland other locations."

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has described the figures as "disturbing."

They say thousands of small shops and jobs are under massive threat.

NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: "This survey is yet another wake up call that urgent and joined up action needs to be taken by the Executive to reverse the decline in our town centres.

"Northern Ireland has not just the worst shop vacancy rate in the UK, but is now approaching double the UK national average."

He continued: "The survey paints a stark picture and we believe that we are approaching a trend of one in three shops being empty by this time next year. This figure is sadly highlighted by the bad news of JJB Sports entering into administration."

© UTV News
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7 Comments
A Trader in Ballymoney wrote (722 days ago):
Planning is another bad joke. In Coleraine, the company that owned Clinton Cards was allowed to open three similar shops within a couple of hundred yards of each other! Now I believe they are all closed. Charity shops are everywhere, but they do not pay any rates at all and use volunteer labour and in many cases sell new goods, so they are able to take business from local traders through unfair competition. Danny Kennedy imposes charges on previously free carparks - where are the low paid shop workers supposed to park now, Danny? Parking charges are increased and fines increased by a massive 50%! What planet are you on, Mr. Kennedy? VAT was raised to 20% which caused a fall in trade that has not recovered, so that needs to be taken back to 15% to at least try to recover some sales. Upwards only rent reviews kill off many businesses so the landlords need to smell the coffee too. There are so many factors killing our high streets that it can accurately be described as a perfect storm. These burdens on our local traders must be removed so that we can trade competitively and actually earn enough to live! If our amateurish politicians will not listen and act then our towns and communities are very soon to become wastelands the like of which is very common across the water.
Andy in Lurgan wrote (723 days ago):
And then we have Belfast City Centre all but closed on a Sunday to accommodate the lesser majority of "christians' within our society.....what is this saying to our economy and more specifically what is it saying to all those tourists staying in the Europa and the Merchant and the Holiday Inn ? Why would anyone in their right mind open a business in Belfast when it is subject to these ancient laws,still enforced by a dinosaur party......If SOME of those in power are serious about bringing tourism to this part of the world then they would need to seriously take a look in the mirror and start sorting things...
A Trader in Ballymoney wrote (724 days ago):
In the good times, town centre shops were seen as a cash cow for easy revenue and rates were raised like there was no tomorrow. Coleraine, now with the highest percentage of empty shops in the UK, is infamous among traders for it's high Rates. The fact that those high Rates are killing the town centre was highlighted just over a year ago when four large multiples warned Coleraine Borough Council that if the Rates took another hefty jump they would have no option but to pull down the shutters. The warning was not heeded, the Rates were raised by well above inflation and Coleraine duly lost those four large multiples. Now, to top it all, Coleraine has lost it's last free carparks and the fine for a parking ticket is more than most families' weekly food budget! The story is similar in all our towns. Our town certres are on the verge of extinction. Without a commercial heart a town becomes just a collection of housing developments and industrial estates. It has no identity, no sense of community and no soul. We will be left with nothing but supermarkets and petrol stations and the profits they make will be sent out of the country. The jobs they provide will all be low pay, short term contracts as they seek to cut their costs to the minimum and increase their profits to the maximum. Very, very few of our local traders are in profit and have not been for years in many cases. They are at the end of the road now. If they are to survive this crisis the business rates, water rates, commercial electricity rates and National Insurance contributions (which are a big disincentive to employers creating jobs) need to revised immediately. And it needs to be done with determination, not the usual too-little-too-late approach.
NIC in Belfast wrote (724 days ago):
The internet sales, Major shopping centre would be two of the main factors . I know that job cuts can also cause problems. But the Internet sales and the major stores can undercut the centre of town stores and lets not forget the price of parking.
jane in Anahilt wrote (724 days ago):
The Rates Chiefs thought it was easy to cash in on commerical properties when the going was good, not forseeing the inevitable slump. Now owners are cripplbed with empoty premises and 100% rates costs! I suggest the owrners hand all their empty properties over to the clever DOE/Rates Office. In any case, failure to pay these extortionate rates will lead to their bankruptcy, so it will end up in their hands anyway, just a different department. Councils encouraged retail growth recklessly, and supply long ago exceed demand. Well done, Councils, you were as clever as the DOE. Now it's come home to roost.
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