Belfast Telegraph

Invest NI shells out £12m for land that has never been used

By Adrian Rutherford

Economic quango Invest NI has shelled out more than £12m on five sites across Northern Ireland which have never been used, it can be revealed.

It includes a prime Belfast business park bought for £5.5m in 2001 — but which has sat vacant for more than a decade.

Another site, part-purchased in the early 1970s, has also never been occupied.

The figures emerged after details of Invest NI’s land portfolio were released.

The five unoccupied sites are:

  • 149 acres at Global Point Business Park, Newtownabbey, bought for £141,812 in 1970, 1972 and 1995
  • 99 acres at Mandeville Business Park in Craigavon, purchased for £850,000 in the mid-90s
  • 23 acres at Forthriver Business Park, Belfast, bought for £5.5m in 2001
  • 40 acres at Dungannon Business Park, acquired for £2.3m |between 2002 and 2004
  • And a 43-acre site at Strabane Business Park bought in 2010 for more than £3m.

Invest NI is also missing out on millions in potential rental income every year because the land — now worth a combined £20m — is unused and going to waste.

Mid-Ulster MLA Sandra |Overend, who obtained the |details in an Assembly question, called for answers. “This is a totally unacceptable position and I would urge the Enterprise Minister (Arlene Foster) and the chief executive of Invest NI (Alastair Hamilton) to clarify why these sites remain vacant and to bring forward an action plan to ensure that we are capitalising on the resources which we have,” she said.

“Given that these five particular sites represent a combined valuation of over £20m, I have to |question whether this is the most astute use of public money by |Invest NI considering the lost rental income as a result.”

According to the figures, revealed by Arlene Foster, Invest NI has land at 39 sites across Northern Ireland — all but two are not fully used.

Five are completely vacant, including the Newtownabbey site, which has an estimated rental value of £11,250 per acre. Around two-thirds of the site is available, providing a potential income of £1,024,000 a year. The site itself is now valued at more than £9m.

The 99-acre site at Mandeville, worth £3.8m, has remained |vacant since it was acquired in the mid-1990s. The annual rent which could be drawn if the site was fully occupied is £435,000.

Mrs Foster said Invest NI held around 2,838 acres of land across Northern Ireland, of which 749 acres was available in support of economic development projects.

“All Invest NI land and property is held in support of economic development and is proactively marketed to both foreign and indigenous investors, although the final decision on location rests with the investor,” she added.

Ms Foster said Invest NI kept its land holding under continual review and any lands deemed surplus to requirements would be considered for disposal.

A spokesman for Invest NI said it employed a long-term strategy in respect of its property |holdings and does not hold land in reserve.

Background

Established in April 2002, Invest NI is an economic development agency funded by the taxpayer. It is an arm’s-length body of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. DETI says Invest NI supports business growth and inward investment, promotes innovation, research and development, and in-company training. It also encourages exports and supports company start-ups.

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