Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Harbour Estate: Powerhouse of growth for 400 years

By Rebecca Black

Belfast Harbour has been the epicentre of city's economy since it was founded in 1613.

Back in the 17th century the harbour brought in ships from across the world and wealth into the city. Today the area hosts a wide variety of ventures from construction to banking.

In 1663 there were 29 vessels owned in Belfast, with a total displacement of 1,100 tonnes. From these modest beginnings, trade continued to expand throughout the century and the original quay was enlarged to accommodate the increasing number of ships.

By the early 18th century more wharves had been constructed, but shallow waters prevented further economic blossoming until 1839 when work began on straightening the Lagan and creating deep channels to allow bigger ships to access the port.

The Belfast Harbour Commissioners was formed in 1847 and more work was done to develop the port, including extensive reclamation of land to accommodate new quays.

During World War II the Port of Belfast was used by the Royal Navy as the home base for many of the ships that escorted Atlantic and Russian convoys, including Captain-class frigates of the 3rd Escort Group.

In terms of management, Belfast Harbour is a Trust Port, and is an independent statutory body. Trust Ports are not owned by Government; they are obliged to operate independently and on a commercial basis. However, its board - the Harbour Commissioners - is appointed by the Department for Regional Development.

Annually the port handles around 15m tonnes of freight and is used by 1.3m ferry passengers.

Cruise ships are becoming an increasingly frequent sight with over 60 calling this year.

The Harbour Estate also has extensive property interests covering about 1,950 acres, of which around 855 acres are used directly for port operations.

A further 90 acres are reserved for nature conservation and the remaining 1,005 are either leased or under negotiation.

More than 700 firms employing around 21,000 people are located within the estate.

Belfast Telegraph

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