Belfast Harbour has reported a sound financial performance for 2019, in line with expectations and providing a strong platform from which to respond to the challenges posed by the impact of Covid-19 on the local and global economy.
Releasing its annual results, Belfast Harbour reported turnover of £65.9m in the year to the end of 2019 (down 4%) and generated operating profits of £30.6m (down 15% from the record results of 2018). The decline in earnings largely reflected the completion of a major offshore windfarm contract mid-2018 and the ongoing decline in power station coal throughput.
Trade remained strong during the year, with more than 24 million tonnes of cargo passing through the port. Ferry passenger numbers exceeded 1.5m for the third year in a row, there were a record number of freight vehicles – up 4% to 542,000 – and cruise ship activity also continued to grow, with 280,000 cruise visitors during the year.
During 2019, £44m was invested in a range of port and estate projects, with £40m invested to automate container handling and upgrade the Belfast -Liverpool ferry terminal, in readiness for the introduction of larger new Stena Line vessels. Construction also commenced on City Quays 3, which will be Northern Ireland’s largest ever Grade ‘A’ office building. The last remaining office space in the City Quays 2 building was occupied during the year.
In 2019 Belfast Harbour committed £115.7m in further investment in strategically significant projects to help deliver its vision of becoming the best regional port and an iconic waterfront for Belfast. These investments will be a critical enabler of NI’s Covid-19 recovery, given the Port’s recognised role as a key driver of the regional economy.
In the past 10 years Belfast Harbour has invested over £290m in port infrastructure and estate regeneration, which as a Trust Port it entirely self-funded – with all profits reinvested back into developing the Port for the benefit of customers and the wider economy.
Belfast Harbour’s Chairman David Dobbin said the sound performance in 2019 and recent years had given the Port a strong base to weather the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.
“Belfast Harbour has not been immune to the significant social and economic challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic but our Port has continued to operate safely and effectively throughout the recent crisis. I want to thank the entire Belfast Harbour community for keeping the Port open for trade round the clock, every day, through the entire pandemic.
“It is reassuring to know that as we prepare for the post crisis recovery, that our performance in 2019 and recent years provides a strong platform to move forward.
“The full implications of the pandemic on trade and our local economy are significant and still unfolding. So far trade through Belfast Port has proved remarkably resilient. Early figures for the March to May period show trade volumes down 20-25% on normal but in recent weeks throughput is running around 10% down on last year. The worst impacts have been in our cruise, tourist and leisure activities which have all but ceased during the crisis.
“The scale of the challenge to get the economy back to pre-crisis levels and to recover our tourist and leisure trade is immense. However, Belfast Harbour’s sound financial position and ambitious investment plans will allow us to play a key role in helping drive the local recovery, working with our customers and key partners to get the economy back on track. I want to assure everyone that we are open for business, our major construction contracts are continuing and we actively pursuing business opportunities.”
Joe O’Neill, Chief Executive of Belfast Harbour said: “During 2019 we launched the latest stage of our strategy ‘A Port for Everyone’ which details our vision out to 2035 and plans to become the best regional port in the world, cementing Belfast Harbour as a key gateway for trade, tradeable services and tourism. This will include further developing Belfast Harbour as a key economic hub for the region and creating an iconic waterfront for Belfast which is an attractive and safe place to live, work, visit and invest.
“Key to the delivery of our ambitious plans is close collaboration with our customers such as Stena Line and our partnerships including those with Belfast City Council, Titanic Quarter Limited, our two Universities, Catalyst, Northern Ireland Screen, Odyssey Trust, Tourism NI, Visit Belfast and the Department of Infrastructure.
“As society and the economy recover from the disruption and uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, this partnership approach will be more important than ever to creating a vibrant economy with long-term opportunities for good jobs and a better way of life for our citizens.
“While the pandemic may influence some of our short and medium-term priorities we believe that the long-term goals of our strategy largely remain valid.”