Belfast Telegraph

Harland and Wolff site must not become apartments, says UUP's Lord Empey

The famous Samson and Goliath cranes at Harland & Wolff in Belfast
The famous Samson and Goliath cranes at Harland & Wolff in Belfast

Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyards must be maintained for industrial use and not sold off to property developers, Lord Empey has said.

The former UUP leader was speaking after it emerged last week that the historic Belfast company was up for sale as its Norwegian parent company Fred Olsen carries out a major restructuring.

The former shipbuilder behind the Titanic has diversified into renewable energy installations since the last ship sailed out of its famous yard in 2003.

The decline of shipbuilding has also been marked by a steady fall in employee numbers from as many as 30,000 in the 1930s to around 100 today.

Harland and Wolff covers two sites on Queen's Island in east Belfast, including the Belfast Repair Dock where some ship work is still carried out.

There is also the main building dock and manufacturing halls where the famous Samson and Goliath gantry cranes operate.

The combined surface area of the sites is nearly 90 acres.

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Former Northern Ireland Enterprise Minister Lord Empey has said that he fears the site may now fall into the hands of property developers.

“When there was talk of the company being sold off in the past, the question of the large site became one of interest. It was speculated that the company could occupy a smaller site and the balance could be sold or redeveloped for other uses," the former East Belfast MLA said.

“The site, most of which sits on land leased from Belfast Harbour, is the largest industrial piece of ground in the greater Belfast area. Whether or not a future owner requires so much land or not, it is important that this land bank is maintained for industrial use so that future generations can have the opportunity to work for companies based in this area.

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey
Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey

“What I have always feared is that if Harland and Wolff was either sold or closed, there would be a 'plunder' of the ground by property developers for more apartments or other such quick turnaround uses, leaving no legacy for the City in the future and preventing any meaningful industrial uses and the jobs that could go with it."

Lord Empey said that housing would not be suitable for the area due to the ongoing heavy industrial work.

“Housing and heavy industry don't mix, due to noise and traffic, and it would be very unwise for Belfast Harbour or any other public body to enter into negotiations with potential buyers or leaseholders before there is a proper discussion with local representatives," he said.

“This is an example of another matter that should be receiving attention from a restored Executive and Assembly, and we must not allow the prospect of a short term, one off profit to blind us to the long-term consequences of re-designating this land for non-industrial uses.”

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