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Brexit blow as UK company pulls plug on £25m Belfast office scheme

By John Mulgrew

A major UK developer has shelved plans to build a £25m high-end office development in Belfast following Brexit, it can be revealed.

The company had been in negotiations to take on an unused site in Belfast, with plans to build grade A office space in a bid to attract top financial and professional services firms.

But yesterday, it decided to shelve plans for at least 12 months. It’s understood the business was due to give the green light in the event of a UK vote to stay in the EU.

The 70,000 sq ft development could have been anywhere between six and 10 storeys tall, according to Eamonn Murphy of Murphy Chartered Surveyors, who was advising the developer.

"They had identified a site to build 70,000 sq ft of grade A office space, for the corporate market," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"But they basically said, we're shelving that for 12 months."

Mr Murphy said another company had also withdrawn from a transaction this week in the wake of Brexit, and the continued "uncertainty" could delay decisions anywhere between "six months and six years".

But he said there still remains huge demand for top-end grade A office space in Belfast, and elsewhere in Northern Ireland.

Last year a report from Invest NI warned Northern Ireland could lose out on foreign direct investment due to a lack of prime office space.

It suggested it intervenes in the market here to help "stimulate the development of new grade A office accommodation".

"There is still the demand for office space. It would take them (a developer) from today, around three years to complete a building. In three years, you will know what the parameters will be".

Earlier this month the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the sale of the Sirocco site in east Belfast, which is due to be developed in a £300m project, was under threat due to Brexit, and a Government conservation order.

Speaking about business confidence and sentiment post-Brexit, Jackie Henry MBE, senior partner at business advisory firm Deloitte, told the Belfast Telegraph clients have "mainly been asking us what happens next".

And she said until it is known how the Leave vote will hit their firms "we are likely to see business confidence remain muted and more cautious investment decisions".

"As indicated by the market volatility, we are likely to see this period of uncertainty continue," she said.

"So, businesses need to ensure they are set up to navigate the immediate risks and impacts of an exit, and have the processes and people in place to manage a period of upheaval.

"Against this backdrop of uncertainty, Northern Irish businesses must continue to be proactive in finding ways to raise productivity and drive growth. We have strong institutions and a highly skilled workforce."

Meanwhile, Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton is on a week-long trip across the US, which will include more than 14 meetings with potential investors, on both the east and west coasts.

Belfast Telegraph