Sunday 16 December 2018

Record year for Belfast port thanks to cruise ships and property

Margaret Canning and Donal O'Donovan

BELFAST Harbour reported a 6.5pc jump in turnover last year to nearly £62m (€70m), following a rise in port cargo and the impact of its property development ventures.

The port handles almost two-thirds of Northern Ireland's maritime trade and a quarter of all maritime trade on the island of Ireland. Like Dublin Port, it provides a full range of port facilities; shipping passengers, containers, dry goods and bulk commodities.

Despite the lack of clarity around Brexit, the annual report says port authorities expect the UK's EU exit to be manageable, in part because the bulk of trade from Belfast is with the rest of the UK.

"While Brexit continues to create some uncertainties, we do not anticipate any major impacts on our business, especially if the currently proposed transition period is agreed. This will allow the region to adapt more smoothly to changing trade arrangements," it said.

Brexit's wider impact on the economy is harder to assess, it states. Belfast is a member of the UK Major Ports Group and British Ports Association, which is pushing for the "best possible access to European and other markets, with minimal disruption to the flow of people and goods".

Yesterday, Belfast Harbour reported what it said was a record year in 2017, with a 3pc increase in port cargo to 23.7 million tonnes during 2017. The 2,000-acre estate makes an increasing share of its income from property.

Its City Quays offices will this week witness the first broadcast by newest tenant, UTV. It also opened film studios at the North Foreshore.

In addition to traditional port operations, Belfast Harbour hosted 94 cruise ships and 154,000 passengers - up from 82 and 145,000 passengers in 2016. The City Quays development also became home to a new hotel, the first in Ireland from the AC Marriott brand.

Operating profit was also up 5.6pc to £34m, while the harbour spent £42m on new port facilities and regeneration developments.

Belfast Harbour is a Port Trust, a UK designation that gives the port independence, including the freedom to reinvest all of its after-tax income. It reported an investment pipeline of £132m in port infrastructure and real estate projects.

During 2017, Belfast Harbour invested £42m in new port facilities and regeneration developments across its 2,000 acres.

Future capital expenditure plans include an upgrade of the port's ferry and container-handling facilities at a cost of £60m and further investments in new logistics warehousing units.

The planned ferry terminal upgrade is to support a major investment by Stena Line in new larger roll-on/roll-off ferries due to start operations from Belfast in early 2020. The Harbour is investing in new cranes and terminal capacity improvements at its container terminal, VT3.

It handles direct shipping services between Belfast and Rotterdam and Antwerp.

Chairman David Dobbin said the port was "a key economic driver" for Northern Ireland. "Our trust port status allows us to reinvest all of our earnings after tax for the benefit of port users and the wider local economy," he added.

"This ongoing investment cycle has been key to our financial success and has allowed us to support the growth in trade and passenger/visitor numbers, and the creation of quality new jobs across our estate. We estimate that our current investment programme will generate over 10,000 jobs."

Irish Independent

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