Belfast Harbour faces 'border issues' but can tackle concerns over UK leaving EU
Belfast Harbour is in talks with major businesses about taking entire buildings in its future City Quays office projects as it's set to tackle "border difficulties" with Brexit looming, its outgoing boss has said.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Harbour chief executive Roy Adair (60), who now oversees a port and development business worth £400m, says that while "there could be border difficulties" with Brexit, it's ready to cope with the complexities of leaving the EU.
But he said, while "it's doable", the impact of multiple transactions on goods arriving could increase time at the port.
And he's pressing on with the City Quays scheme, with the 17-storey third building to begin next year, followed by a fourth, and two others, which could be built for one major tenant looking to find a new home.
Mr Adair is stepping down from his top role next year after 12 years at the helm.
And he said that a court battle with Titanic Quarter, which was settled last year, "has been cathartic" and there has never been any "bad blood" between the Harbour and the developers across the water.
"In the Brexit context, the macro perspective is very important... I think what is without any shadow of a doubt is it does depend on how the ball lands, and that's your uncertainty principle," he said.
"It almost certainly in most states, it will generate winners and losers."
The Harbour deals with millions of tonnes of freight and passenger traffic each year.
"If you take the volume of flow as measured in pound notes, between east and west, versus north and south, in the British Isles, the east/west flows are much important," Mr Adair said.
"You don't want to lose anything... there could be border difficulties. A lot of that is about how much preparation time. If it was tomorrow, people aren't ready. Is it possible to become ready to undertake those transaction? Yes it is.
"Is there the requisition knowledge to handle those transactions? Yes there is."
Mr Adair said, with goods already coming from outside the EU, the port, and others, are well-versed in dealing with customs issues.
"Stuff comes in a container. If it's a big boat full of grain, that's a big homogeneous cargo, and a single customs transaction," he said. "But if you have a container, how many customs transactions are contained within, and does the necessary manifest information exist? It's all doable, not for free, it will cost a bit more money."
In his 12 years at the helm, he's helped expand and grow the Harbour into a major Northern Ireland developer.
And in that time, the Harbour's profits have increased from around £13m to around £33m, while the balance sheet value has increased from around £180m to over £400m.
The Harbour is also set to take a fresh look at the 'masterplan' for its City Quays office development.
"We have a fairly big masterplan, which is six or seven years old," Mr Adair said. "Next year, we are very keen to refresh that... and go back, and say, we have made good progress, we are into the first phase of this, it's doing extraordinarily well, does that mean everything else we thought was right, or do we need to review that? We are about to start kicking the tyres on the original masterplan."