The office sector in Belfast is booming, Sean Dolan, Development Manager, Belfast City Council, told Real Asset Media’s UK Investment Outlook: FDI and Capital Flows, which was held in July at Nuveen’s London headquarters.
‘The city’s Growth Agenda which aims at revitalising the city includes 1.5 mln sq ft of new grade A office space by 2021, 1 million of which has already been delivered,’ he said. ‘Four out of five existing investors are choosing to stay, invest more and expand, so we are getting good accolades.’
Planning permission has just been granted for a new office block called The Sixth. Having a business-friendly City Council helps. The plan is to have a 20% increase in residents by 2035 and create 46,000 new jobs, especially in tech and the knowledge economy.
‘Belfast is the top city in Europe for new software development projects and the number one globally for fintech investment’ Dolan said. ‘There are opportunities also in data security and analytics and cybersecurity. There is a new Science Park and Incubation hubs to allow seedling projects to grow’.
One advantage the city has is its connectivity and good transport links, with fast broadband and a 5G network, 230 flights a week from London and strong connections with Dublin.
Another advantage Belfast has is its young population, as 40% of its inhabitants are under 30. As part of the Growth Agenda, the University of Belfast with its 15,000 students and staff is relocating from the suburbs to the city centre, which means there will be opportunities in student housing. Some activity has already taken place and 1,500 new purpose-built beds have been delivered.
The hospitality sector is also growing fast, as tourist arrivals increase. The plan is for 2,500 new hotel spaces to be ready by 2021, and so far 1,300 have been delivered. ‘There are opportunities in mixed-use developments at the Belfast Waterside and also at the Titanic quarter, where £400 mln have already been spent,’ he said. ‘One million tourist a year visit the Titanic centre alone’.
The uncertainty over Brexit cannot be avoided but it could work to Belfast’s advantage whatever happens, Dolan said: ‘After the UK leaves the EU, Northern Ireland will be able to benefit to its closeness to what will then be Europe’.
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