Northern Ireland continues to have the highest vacancy rate in the United Kingdom.

According to the latest Lisney Northern Ireland Commercial Property report, 19% of shops in Northern Ireland are vacant. Although there has been no increase in the vacancy rate since 2012, it is still higher than the UK average of 11.1%. Belfast saw an improvement over the past year, however 17.2% of shops in the city remain vacant.

The report attributes business rates as the primary factor for the level of occupancy in Northern Ireland and hoped that a rates revaluation for April 2015 would improve the situation.

Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive Glyn Roberts expressed concern over the high rate.

“It is disappointing that the Lisney report shows little real positive change and that Northern Ireland still has the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK by a long way,” he said. “We are particularly concerned at the very high vacancy rates in towns such as Bangor, Ballymena, Omagh and Newtownabbey which are highlighted in this report.”

Roberts called on the Northern Ireland Executive to take action. “This requires a new sense of urgency by the Executive to put in place a multi-departmental response to tackle this problem,” he added. “We need to see coordinated action on Rates, Planning, Urban Regeneration and Car Parking to ensure our town centres do not fall into further decline.

“We call upon the Executive Sub Group on the Economy to put this issue top of the list at their next meeting. The current Rates Revaluation needs to ensure that Town Centre retailers pay the same rates per square foot as large out of town retailers. A further extension of the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme is also needed.”