Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Harbour has a record year of growth - the silver lining in our economic cloud

By John Mulgrew

Belfast Harbour has been heralded as a "critical artery in the lifeblood of the Northern Ireland economy" as it posted record levels of growth.

More than 23 million tonnes passed through the port hub in 2014 - with business witnessing an upsurge of 1.6% last year.

And it's been buoyed by a boost in cruise ship passengers, consumer goods and a surge in exports.

It's been branded a "prime contributor" and a "key player" in Northern Ireland's economy, acting as the main entry and exit point for goods and services.

It witnessed growth across most areas of business, including freight, shipping containers of consumer goods, and new car imports, with the number of vehicles passing through the port reaching its highest level since 2007.

The number of cruise ship passengers also reached record levels last year, rising by 23% to around 112,000.

Belfast Harbour handles goods valued at around £20bn each year, and is responsible for 70% of Northern Ireland's seaborne trade.

Its growth has been four-fold in the past 20 years and it made £27m of pre-tax profit in its latest annual figures for 2013.

The business, headed up by chief executive Roy Adair, is also in the Belfast Telegraph's Top 100 companies list.

David Dobbin, chairman of the Belfast Harbour Board and chief executive of Dale Farm Group, told the Belfast Telegraph that the hub's success acted as a "barometer" for the economy here.

"It's a key part and player in the economy. As we are an island, which is off an island, which is in turn off Europe, our sea and air connections are vitally important," he said. "In all aspects, the harbour is a prime contributor to the Northern Ireland economy - it's a barometer.

"And we are only as good as the companies that feed off our facilities. The outcomes are record tonnage, in and out, as well as record numbers of cruise ships, and expansion with City Quays and prime office space."

Economist John Simpson described Belfast Harbour as "a critical artery in the lifeblood of the Northern Ireland economy".

Exports out of Northern Ireland made up more than 40% of all cargo last year, with quarry firm Conexpo contributing to one million tonnes of stone shipped to meet demand from overseas.

The latest record figures come as it's understood progress is being made on the possibility of selling off the entire Harbour Estate to private buyers.

According to Ukip MLA David McNarry, "serious consideration" is being given to the idea.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said: "Any course of action in respect of disposal of all or part of the Belfast Harbour Estate would of course require Executive agreement".

Mr Adair said surpassing 23m tonnes for the first time "is a major achievement for the harbour, driven by our ongoing investment programme to deliver best-in-class facilities".

"As the economy across the island has improved, so too has competition in the port sector," he said. "Belfast Harbour is pursuing a pipeline of new capital expenditure projects, valued at £140m, to support further economic growth across the Harbour Estate.

"Improving economic and consumer confidence across the island has helped drive growth. Increased steel imports, for example, reflects greater manufacturing activity, especially in the Republic of Ireland, while the improvement in freight, containers and new car imports suggests a modest pick-up in consumer confidence."

Belfast Telegraph

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