Belfast port is now major force in Northern Ireland’s FDI drive

Belfast Harbour is the largest port authority in Northern Ireland and one of the largest in the UK. It also owns and manages the Belfast Harbour estate, a 2,000-acre area that is probably the largest active harbour estate in the United Kingdom and the island of Ireland

“Having a land bank of that size gives us huge scope for estate management and estate development,” Joe O’Neill, CEO, Belfast Harbour, told Real Asset Media’ Richard Betts recently.

He said that the authority has been a particularly active developer over the last 10 years in a wide number of property related investments in Belfast and that the scale of the land bank means that every asset class is represented – including big-box retail, Belfast City Airport, manufacturing and tourism.

“But our focus in recent times has been developing grade-A office accommodation along the waterfront.” Belfast Harbour has two significant schemes: the Titanic Quarter based on former shipyard land; and City Quays, former operational port land near the harbour office.

The authority has delivered over 600,000 sq ft (c55,740 sq m) of grade-A office accommodation over the last five years, mainly targeting foreign direct investment that aligns with the ambitions of both the city and investment agency Invest Northern Ireland.

“We’ve also developed significant scale in movie studios. Northern ,Ireland and principally Belfast, has an ambition to be the second largest media sector outside of greater London. We’re at the heart of that in terms of providing the most modern movie studios principally for the US programmers,” O’Neill explained.  

There are big ambitions for the residential sector too. “The city has a plan for 31,600 new homes by 2035. About 3,500 of those are envisaged to be in the harbour estate and we’re on site already for about a thousand of those.”

Developing community is central to the authority’s thinking. “It has to be and I think because we have this single controlling mind and ownership over such a large land bank we can coordinate a true community – a mix of live, work, study, invest – because we control all aspects of development for the estate. Place-based and community-based residential development and community building is at the core of our development plans,” he said.  

This has entailed sustainably developing residential areas, in particular, the inclusion of significant new parks for the city within the harbour estate, as well as connecting the harbour estate with local neighborhoods and the city centre.

“We’re quite excited about how we can build a new community in Belfast,” O’Neill said. “I think the harbour estate has been recognised as a business community,” he added. “There’s a very different perspective now about what’s happening in the community that’s been developed in the harbour.”