New office builds buoyed construction activity in Belfast last year though two-thirds of space is still available to let, according to a report today.
The annual Belfast crane survey by business advisory firm Deloitte said construction in the city had been resilient during 2020. There were five new office projects started in Belfast last year totalling 1.3 million sq ft.
They were among 23 schemes which were under construction or finished in 2020 despite the Covid-19 pandemic - a slight fall on 2019's tally of 26.
However, there had been 35 active projects in 2018 - translating as a fall of 34% in the intervening two years.
There were seven all-new projects, down from 11 in 2019.
But two-thirds of the new office space remains available to let, Deloitte said, as companies delay signing up to new office space in light of working from home habits adopted since the pandemic began last year.
Simon Bedford, a partner in Deloitte real estate, said a survey by the firm predicted homeworking would increase by five-fold in 2025. "The role of the office could flex to meet shifting demands for collaborative and creative space, as organisations re-evaluate their needs," he said.
And while the pace of decision-making is expected to ease due to the pervading uncertainty, there continues to be ambitious mixed-use developments in Belfast's pipeline.
"There remains optimism that the office will continue to play a key role in the future of work, in a hybrid model alongside rising home-working."
The new office projects include Olympic House, a 148,000 sq ft joint venture between Titanic Quarter and Belfast Harbour, 35DP, a five-storey refurbished office development Donegall Place, and the 11-storey Paper Exchange. Work continued on Belfast Harbour's City Quays 3 offices project, after starting in late 2019
There were 11 office projects under way in total, as well as four student accommodation sites, one residential development, four education sites, two retail projects and one leisure scheme.
But there were no new residential starts in 2020.
Mr Bedford said the city was showing resilience. "While overall development figures dipped slightly, there remained a significant amount of development delivered over the year."
The two retail developments were the renovation of Primark's home at Bank Buildings, and the redevelopment of the former DV8 premises nearby.
Work also continued on the redevelopment of Odyssey Pavilion complex - the only leisure scheme in this year's survey.
In the education sector work continued on the Ulster University Belfast campus, now due to complete in September.