Developer Neptune buys Ballyclare site with plans for 1,800 new homes
A massive residential site in Co Antrim has been snapped up for an undisclosed sum by English property firm Neptune Group.
The 165-acre site outside Ballyclare has planning permission for 1,800 new homes.
London-based Neptune Group already owns the Linen Green Shopping Centre in Dungannon, Co Tyrone.
And it has also bought Belvoir Park, the site of the old municipal hospital in south Belfast, for housing.
Neptune director Patrick Heffron said: "The sheer scale of the Ballyclare site will enable us to create an exciting residential district close to the amenities of a superb provincial town, yet only 15 minutes from Belfast."
It is understood the Ballyclare site was formerly owned by KPL Contracts, run by Kevin Lynch. That company is thought to have bought the site for £55m but no price has been given for the amount of the latest transaction.
Dungiven firm KPL went into administration last year with the loss of more than 200 jobs.
It is understood the massive tranche of land was sold by West Register, the firm set up by Ulster Bank's parent company RBS to manage its distressed property assets following the financial crisis.
The land had been put on the market by estate agency Simon Brien in August.
Mr Brien said: "There was a lot of interest in it and it has taken three months to sell it. The benefit of the site is that it has outlying permission on the whole site and full permission on either end, enabling a developer to get started straight away."
And he said there was full planning permission on the site for 123 new homes, including three-bed semi-detached houses and four-bed detached homes.
Mr Heffron said the development would also have a significant economic benefit for businesses in Ballyclare, and for the surrounding towns of Antrim and Ballymena.
"As important will be the boost to the local construction sector that this development will provide, as we plan to start work on the site early next year," he said.
"We intend to liaise closely with the local community and elected representatives in order that the new proposed link road can be constructed in a timely fashion."
Creighton Boyd, also a director at Neptune Group, said there was a "strong market" for new build homes in greater Belfast.
"We witnessed incredible demand for phase one of our development at Belvoir Park in Belfast which sold out almost immediately, he said. "We would hope by implementing the Neptune design and development process, demand in Ballyclare will follow in a similar vein."
Neptune Group was advised by legal firm Arthur Cox.
Housebuilding has been slow to recover in Northern Ireland since the economic downturn.
But recent quarters have seen some increase in new home registrations, according to figures from the National House Building Council.
According to NHBC figures for the third quarter of 2015, there was an increase of 39% in new registrations in the Province during the three-month period, growing from 713 last year to 994 this year.
That was the healthiest percentage increase of the UK's devolved nations, and healthier even than London's 25% jump.
And in the year so far, there have been 2,688 new homes registered, up 38% from 1,941 in the first nine months of 2014.