Local authorities have been urged to reduce rates to halt increasing numbers of town centre shops going empty in Northern Ireland.
A new report into the commercial property market also revealed a lack of office development in the centre of Belfast, which it is claimed could create a shortage of Grade A space and have an impact on the ability to attract inward investment if a reduction in corporation tax is secured.
Declan Flynn, managing director of commercial property agency Lisney, said: “We need effective policies to protect our town centres and these should include rates reductions for all to locate in town centres rather than out of town.”
The report confirmed the high level of retail property vacancy in towns, including Portadown, Co Armagh, which has one in five shops lying empty, the highest anywhere. Mallusk, near Glengormley, Co Antrim, had the highest industrial vacancy level.
Rents for Grade A office accommodation in Belfast city centre, which has just over one million sq ft overall unoccupied, was around £12 a square foot, the same as 20 years ago.
Mr Flynn said the Republic remained a significant competitor in terms of securing major occupiers for office and industrial space, despite rents and other costs in Northern Ireland being significantly lower.
A reduction in corporation tax would place Northern Ireland on a much stronger footing, but other issues needed to be addressed.
He said: “These include the fact that floor sizes in available office space in Belfast city centre are too small to attract large corporates.
“The Government’s dominant position in the Belfast office market also continues to artificially depress rents, and continues to place an imbalance of liability on the landlord, which discourages investment and development.
“This lack of development could lead to a shortage of Grade A space, which would impact on the ability of Northern Ireland to attract vital inward investment.”