RETAILERS have reported a major improvement in trading last month amid growing optimism in the beleaguered sector.

Figures published today show UK shop footfall in January was 1.6 per cent higher than a year ago, up on the 2.4 per cent fall in December.

The performance is the best since December 2011 and the first rise since July, according to the British Retail Consortium.

The North of England, including Yorkshire, was one of the best performing regions with increased footfall in line with the national average and behind only Greater London, which saw a surge of 3.2 per cent year-on-year, and the East Midlands, where it was up 2.9 per cent.

In other parts, sales varied between increases of 1.1 per cent in the West Midlands to a fall of 1.8 per cent in Scotland.

Helen Dickinson, the director general of the British Retail Consortium, said more shoppers were “out and about” in January.

“It’s good news for retailers and it helps to explain the rise is sales we reported earlier in the month, demonstrating that UK shoppers were enthusiastically checking out the promotions available during the sales season,” she said.

“Out-of-town retail parks and shopping centres did particularly well this month.

“The High Street performed a little worse, with numbers of shoppers dropping slightly by 0.6 per cent.”

She admitted the number of vacant shop units across the country remained high at 11 per cent.

“Empty shops hurt local economies and there is still a need to reduce the costs of operating property by reforming the business rates system,” she added.

Yorkshire’s retail economy has been boosted by the opening of the £350m Trinity Leeds centre – believed to be the biggest new development in Europe last year. It had already attracted 10 million shoppers barely five months after its opening, including many in the evening due to extended opening hours.

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