Belfast Telegraph

Boss warns rioting may see firms quit Belfast premises

By Clare Weir

Rioting and disorder in Belfast is set to have a "devastating" effect on business decisions, according to a commercial property expert.

Brian Lavery, managing director of global firm CBRE in Belfast, said that while the unrest had a more tangible impact on retail, the effect on future investment potental was "just as damaging".

"We speak on a daily basis with our colleagues throughout the worldwide CBRE network and all are aware that the rioting is happening," Mr Lavery said.

"The negative images cannot fail to have a result on a corporation deciding whether to locate into Northern Ireland or not, whether it be in the office-based services or logistics sector."

He said his firm had held talks this week with an existing inward investor.

"The only way they would not commit to a long term investment in Northern Ireland was if a catastrophic event was likely which would endanger their workers and their ability to do commerce," he said.

"We could not answer their fears with anywhere near the confidence we would have had just two months ago."

He said that many new entrants to the market last year had chosen 'serviced' offices for the short to medium term, rather than commit to long leases "and the danger is they can then disappear as quickly as they came".

"Generally from a commercial property viewpoint, the current civil unrest is devastating," he said.

He predicted that there will be further bankruptcies and administrations in the retail sector by the summer, partly as a consequence of disruption to trade. It was "impossible to determine" how many shoppers from beyond Belfast had decided to avoid the city.

Nigel Smyth, CBI Northern Ireland director, has warned that the protests could cost businesses in Belfast up to £15m.

"There is now a very real risk of job losses as the very livelihood of the business owners and staff in the communities affected is threatened," he said.

"We are already aware of investors who have lost interest in Northern Ireland because of these disruptions."

Meanwhile, following news that some Belfast-based business owners are considering withholding their rates, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has urged warned traders not to break the law, as they will face legal action for repayment.