Belfast Telegraph

Acquisition of Invest NI's Nama-owned HQ 'will save public purse £3m a year'

By Lesley Houston

The Executive has pledged Invest NI £17m to help purchase its Belfast headquarters, currently controlled by the Republic's bad bank Nama.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson yesterday revealed the funding package as part of the redistribution of £200m of Stormont finances in the June Monitoring Round.

The move is expected to result in considerable savings in lease payments for Invest NI at its Bedford Street premises but the agency has declined to comment.

As part of the funds earmarked to a diverse range of benefactors, the minister allotted £19m to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).

Part of DETI's package will strengthen Invest NI's Access to Finance Funds to help all types of local businesses weather the enduring downturn.

Speaking before the Assembly, Mr Wilson told members he hoped the funds for the purchase would be confirmed by the autumn. He said there was a "golden opportunity" to buy Invest NI's offices.

"The opportunity arose to buy the building, the rent for which comes from the resource budget, which is getting tighter and harder to find provision within," he said. "We had a golden opportunity to purchase the building using capital money and, in the long run, over the next 18 years of what would have been the lease, to save resource money.

"We estimate that we will save nearly £3m a year compared with what we have been paying in rent.

"I think that we did the right thing in grasping that opportunity. The savings over the lease period amount to nearly £24m of resource money."

Currently, Invest NI leases the building through a PFI contract. However, loans taken out by the original owner, Bedford Street Developments, were absorbed by Nama.

The Minister added: "Invest NI can now buy back its headquarter building at a very competitive price. I hope to be able to confirm this allocation in the October Monitoring round."

Economist John Simpson said that such a purchase "makes sense with current scarce resources".

"This is a judicious moment at which they might buy this type of property when the market is depressed, a property which will only appreciate as the years go by."

Invest NI, however, was remaining tight-lipped on the deal, stating, "as negotiations are still ongoing we are unable to comment at this stage".

Turning to DETI's £19m cash boost, Mr Wilson said: "The fact that DETI sought this additional funding provides another indication of emerging optimism in the local economy and the Executive will not hesitate to do all it can to help boost jobs and growth here."

Belfast Telegraph