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Belfast Harbour trade increases

Trade through Belfast harbour is on the up again after a three year downturn.

Total cargo through the port rose to 16.5 million tonnes last year, a 5pc rise on the previous 12 months.

Tonnage both in and out of Belfast lough had dropped 10pc since 2007 as a result of the global credit crunch.

With the harbour handling almost two thirds of the North's sea borne trade, its performance is a barometer of wider economic activity.

The Stormont Executive is set to introduce a multi-million pound levy on the harbour as part of plans to generate additional income to offset spending cuts.

Passenger numbers through the port in 2010 dropped slightly to 1.3m, down less than 1pc, while 35 cruise ships called at Belfast carrying 62,000 passengers and crew.

Bulk cargoes through the harbour were up 12pc during the year, with agri-food related trades recording particularly strong upturn.

For the first time ever grain and animal feed tonnages reached the two million tonne mark.

Stone exports jumped by almost 50pc as a consequence of major road repair programmes in Great Britain and the development of new markets in continental Europe.

Severe winter weather helped push salt tonnages shipments up by 238pc to a record 98,000 tonnes.

But it was not all positive news, with the trading figures indicating continuing problems for the construction sector.

Timber products fell by 32pc to 82,000 tonnes, the lowest since 1985 while cement imports fell to 48,000, an almost ten-fold fall since their 2001 peak.

Belfast Harbour's chairman, Len O'Hagan, said: "While issues remain over the strength of the economic recovery - particularly in the Republic of Ireland which accounts for 20pc of Belfast Harbour's trade - there are good reasons to be optimistic about future trends.

"With the agri-food and associated sectors continuing to expand, due in part to the recent development of new harbour facilities costing £30m, it also appears that manufacturing activity in the North is beginning to show signs of increased activity and tentative recovery.

"Continued investment in new facilities has enabled the harbour to diversify into new sectors and provide our existing customers with the most modern port on the island.

"In similar vein, the harbour is continuing to consider investments in other sectors with a view to stimulating wider economic activity, further diversifying its revenue streams and catering for long-term growth in the wider economy."

Operational changes to Irish Sea routes are anticipated to benefit Belfast Harbour during this year.

Stena Line's plan to open a new terminal at Loch Ryan in Scotland later this year is expected to further boost freight vehicle activity through Belfast.

Belfast Harbour's Commercial Director, Joe O'Neill, added: "It is a welcome sign that tonnages through the port rose last year by a healthy 5.4pc.

"We will continue to seek to support our customers by developing facilities and increasing trade through the port, although we recognise that challenges persist in some sectors.

"Our expectation, however, remains that new marine facilities will be required to cater for long-term growth in Northern Ireland's economy."

PA Media