A major shopping centre owner highlighted improved demand from retailers today as the economic and consumer recovery takes hold in the UK.

Hammerson, which has a portfolio of shopping centres in the UK and France includes the Bullring in Birmingham and Brent Cross in London, said its occupancy rate was well above its 97% target, at 97.7% last year.

The company's 2.1% rise in net rental income for 2013 was also slightly higher than expected, amid continued strong tenant demand for its shopping centre locations, which attract more than 250 million visitors each year.

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Hammerson chief executive David Atkins said: "We have reported a good set of results in a year when we saw the beginning of economic and consumer recovery in the UK.

"We are seeing improving demand from retailers, and Hammerson is creating the right product to meet their future requirements, which provides the conditions for selected growth in rental values."

Mr Atkins added that the economic picture in France was less clear cut, although with personal debt levels remaining low there is the opportunity for a rebound in consumer spending when growth returns.