Johnny Ronan's Treasury Holdings provided one of the few bright spots for Irish developers at the conference in Manchester

Not so very long ago, limousines were hired by Irish property industry veterans to ferry them to the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) retail showcase but it's a sign of how much things have changed that some companies this year paid for a single delegate to attend and then passed the card around between several of them.

The atmosphere at this year's knees- up in Manchester was, apparently, "flat" this year, reflecting the wider market woes faced by the retail sector.

One source spoke of happy hour in one of the conference bars being attended by 20 people, with eight staff behind the bar to serve them, while others spoke of meetings taking place in hotels outside the conference walls to avoid paying the delegate fee.

Traditionally, Irish developers and retail agents flocked to the exhibition and a number of large deals were agreed or announced over the three days. This year, one developer was apparently so disappointed by the event that he left the conference halfway through the second day.

It's a sad reflection of the retail sector at present that the two big Irish announcements were already in the public domain.

Marks & Spencer's announcement that it was opening in Joe O'Reilly's Pavilions development in Swords, north Dublin, was year-old news and this newspaper revealed several weeks ago the Butlers were planning to open a UCI at the Bailey brothers' Charlestown scheme in Finglas in Dublin 11.

The Baileys are also currently trying to have part of the 40 acres they own at Charlestown rezoned to "facilitate a greater diversity of uses in this area" such as mixed-use development.

Some of the lands are currently zoned for industrial use.

From an Irish perspective, the sole obvious bright notes emerging from the conference was the fact that several retailers signalled interest in entering the Irish market for the first time, and that Treasury Holdings won the best stand for its showcase of its planned Spring Cross retail scheme in Ballymun, its €60m Sligo town-centre scheme together with its masterplan for Battersea Power station in London.

The Battersea plan contains 650,000sq ft of retail space, part of which will be in the former power station itself.

"BCSC certainly was a lot smaller the previous years' events," said Eoin Feeney, a director of property advisers HWBC.

"People didn't put as much money into stands. From a Blanchardstown Town Centre perspective, we had a good BCSC, we've several leads with retailers we're confident will go somewhere. I think everybody who was there was focused. It was a lot more subdued."

"It was a poorly attended show but those that were there, particular retailers, were there to satisfy genuine requirements over the next few years. Many retailers we spoke to were looking to getting better deals in Ireland over the next year or so. It was comforting to see positive retail requirements still there," said Cormac Kennedy, a retail director at CBRE.

Karl Stewart, a director at property advisers DTZ Sherry FitzGerald said a lot of the retailers looking at Ireland wanted to know if it's hit rock bottom and if we're going to come out of it.

"A lot of British people are trying to get their heads around Nama and whether it's a good thing or a bad thing," he said. "A lot of decisions will be dependent on how people trade over Christmas."

He also said that retailers interested in expanding here want a lot more certainty than previously in relation to funding, opening dates and contracts with builders than they would have had previously.