Belfast Telegraph

We need first class offices to entice blue chip firms

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's house prices may well be climbing - up 7.3% in the last year, according to the Office for National Statistics - but that feeling of a confident economy hasn't quite permeated into all aspects of business.

In boom times, property developers feel confident about building, and often that confidence manifests in the form of shiny office buildings.

But speculative office building has all but ceased, apart from projects embarked on by well-established figures such as Tom Ekin (in Weavers Court near Sandy Row), also an Alliance Party councillor, or as a sideline by highly profitable enterprises such as Belfast Harbour.

Invest NI has now published a report it commissioned on ways of re-energising the market - including the possibility of providing funding to developers, who certainly aren't able to secure it from the banks.

Before the Harbour embarked on its waterside City Quays office building, the last new development in Belfast had been the Soloist and Lanyon Towers.

Those William Ewart Properties ventures had required a hand-up from Nama, but are now (at least part) filled by high-end tenants such as law firm Pinsent Masons and Land & Property Services.

Elsewhere in the city, some vacant office space is being upgraded for new tenants who may be prepared to take a more relaxed view of how a Grade A office should look.

But in contrast, developers have shown more willing to take a chance on the needs of students in the city, with developments of student accommodation planned by Gary McCausland among others.

Much of the new City Quays development has already been let out to law firm Baker & McKenzie - one of the biggest names of 2014 in a healthy year for inward investment announcements from Invest NI.

Corporation tax is another enticement for inward investors. Earlier this week First Minister Peter Robinson told the Assembly that there was "world brand name companies" showing interest in setting up here, thanks to the prospect of lower corporation tax.

But if there aren't enticing office developments to house them in, we won't have all our ducks in a row.

Belfast Telegraph