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Council unease as DRD hold-up leaves Belfast Harbour's board short-staffed

By Claire McNeilly

Published 09/12/2015

David Browne
David Browne

The Belfast Harbour Commissioners' board is operating without its full number of members - and without any public representatives - the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The board is responsible for the management of the Port of Belfast, and several members of Belfast City Council have expressed concern that they are being left in the dark over key policy and business decisions.

The port reported an increased turnover of £52.6 million, with an operating profit of £27.8m, last year.

Belfast Harbour's own rules, posted on its website, state that the board should consist of no fewer than 10 members.

And although the site lists a 14-strong board, four Belfast councillors - David Browne (UUP), Pat Convery (SDLP), Matt Garrett (Sinn Fein) and Tom Haire (DUP) - finished their terms in late March.

The Belfast Telegraph understands that at least two other members have left the ruling committee.

Board members are appointed by the Department for Regional Development (DRD), but, so far, no newcomers have been recruited for the board heading into next year.

Belfast City Council sent a list of names for the DRD's consideration six months ago.

This is in sharp contrast to the Ports of Warrenpoint and Londonderry, which had their board appointments completed by former Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy in the summer.

DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen took over from Mr Kennedy as DRD Minister in September.

A spokesman for the DRD said the minister would be announcing the new councillor appointments "in due course".

The board of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners is responsible for major investment decisions such as City Quays, a £250m development regenerating 20 acres of ex-shipping land in Belfast city centre that includes grade A office space, residential, leisure, hotel and retail areas and car parking.

Mr Convery, who recently stepped down, described the new appointments as being "in limbo".

He added: "I don't know what the hold-up is."

Councillor Browne, who was a member of the board for almost 10 years, said the situation was of major concern to all council representatives.

"This is not down to the Belfast Harbour Commissioners," he added.

"This is down to DRD dragging its feet, and I'm concerned as to why such a simple task is taking so long.

"The interviews have all been done, it's now a simple matter of them being signed off by the minister. It does cause us concern that this hasn't happened."

Councillor Brian Kingston said a change in minister was behind the delay.

"The appointment process wasn't concluded under the previous minister, but I understand it will be shortly, and we would welcome that," he added.

A DRD spokesman said the minister had already decided on the new appointments.

"There was some initial delay in the nomination of councillors by Belfast City Council as it was unable to put forward nominees before the new council held its first ratified meeting in May," he said.

"This - along with the resignation of a nominated councillor midway through the process -plus the unavailability of another councillor, delayed final interviews until October 13, 2015.

"Subsequently, a submission was put to the incoming minister. The minister has made a decision and the successful candidates will be notified in due course."

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