Belfast Harbour has announced its ambition to become the best regional port in the world and create an iconic waterfront for Belfast that will be an attractive place for people to live, work and visit as well as a hub for inward investment and tourism.
The 2019-2023 Strategic Plan together with an outlook through to 2035 were publicly launched at Belfast Harbour’s Annual Stakeholder Meeting. The plan focuses on increased collaboration and partnerships with key city stakeholders to drive growth and regeneration in Belfast’s waterfront area.
As part of the plan the Port has committed £254 million of investment to deliver new marine and estate infrastructure. Research from Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre has concluded that these investments will generate 7,000 new jobs and support a further 3,500 construction jobs generating £500 million gross value added for the Northern Ireland economy and an additional £300 million in wages and £4 million in rates to the city each year.
The projects planned over the next five years will lay the foundation for even more substantial “once-in-a-generation” investments. Detailed in Belfast Harbour’s ‘2035 Outlook’ these long-term proposals include schemes to deepen the Port’s shipping channel to accommodate larger vessels, to create new deep-water quays, the completion of the 2 million sq ft City Quays development and the creation of a new globally recognised science and technology hub at Catalyst Inc.
Speaking at the meeting, Belfast Harbour’s Chairman, David Dobbin, said: “Belfast Harbour has been enabling local businesses to succeed and trade with the outside world since it began over 400 years ago. The purpose of our plans is to make sure we are fit for purpose to handle and benefit from the technological, economic and social changes taking place in the 21st century.
“We want to become the world’s best regional port and create an iconic waterfront district for Belfast which will be an attractive place to live, work, visit and invest in. This will bring huge benefits for our customers, the regional economy and all our citizens. We can’t deliver our ambitious plans by ourselves which is why a partnership approach is a key part of our strategy. If Northern Ireland is going to be competitive on the global stage then we need to work together, collaborate more and invest in key infrastructure.
“Over the next five years Belfast Harbour intends to invest £254 million in new Port and estate infrastructure and facilities. This major investment programme is really only possible because of our Trust Port status which allows us to reinvest every penny of our net earnings back into the business.”
During 2019-2023 Belfast Harbour plans to invest £254 million upgrading its cranes and material handling equipment, installing new ramps to accommodate larger vessels and building new storage facilities. Work will also begin on digital ‘Smart Port’ initiatives to provide greater automation and a new unified system to coordinate cargo and shipping communications.
A number of real estate projects will also be completed, including City Quays 4, a 250-apartment build-to-rent development; Pierpont Plaza, a five-storey office facility at Catalyst Inc; additional new film studios and a media hub at Giant’s Park and new public realm space.
Over the longer term the ambition is to significantly enhance the Port’s capacity to attract new trade and manage the next generation of shipping by deepening the Victoria Channel and developing new quays and wharves. Belfast Harbour also wants to create an iconic waterfront district with attractive public spaces that is integrated into the rest of the city. This will potentially include new cross-harbour bridges, a water taxi service and opportunities for new tourism, leisure and cultural projects.
Joe O’Neill, Belfast Harbour’s CEO, said: “These plans are among the most ambitious to be put forward in the Port’s history, but the challenges and opportunities of the future demand a new approach.
“Belfast Harbour is currently working with a wide range of partners such as Belfast City Council, Department for Infrastructure, Catalyst Inc and our two Universities, NI Screen, Titanic Quarter and Titanic Foundation so that we can accomplish more. Over the course of the coming months we are looking forward to launching joint initiatives that will support the development of new trade, tourism and tradeable services opportunities.
“Belfast City Council’s aim is to accommodate 66,000 new residents, create 46,000 additional jobs, and develop 550,000 sq m of employment floor space by 2035. Belfast Harbour’s proposals will be pivotal in helping meet those targets.
“Our strategy, however, is not just about physical infrastructure; we want to use our resources and expertise to develop partnership initiatives that build Northern Ireland’s capacity for economic growth. These will include projects to target new port trades, skills programmes to support employers, a Global Innovation Institute to encourage R&D and an accelerator programme to stimulate innovative business.
“Undoubtedly our plans will evolve and change over time, but the strategy sets out our long-term direction of travel. By 2035 our vision is to transform the Port and Belfast’s waterfront, boost trade and make an even more significant contribution to Northern Ireland’s economy.”
Belfast Harbour has also set out plans to be one of the world’s most sustainable ports by deploying new technologies to improve air quality, reduce fuel consumption and reduce emissions. The Port will “digitise, decarbonise and decentralise” its energy usage by providing shore-side power for vessels and creating a green micro-energy grid throughout Belfast Harbour Estate.