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Belfast Harbour Commissioners' £254m vision can make the city a world-leading regional port

Robin Newton



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Exciting future: an ambitious project will deliver a contemporary waterfront to rival the likes of Liverpool and Blackpool

Exciting future: an ambitious project will deliver a contemporary waterfront to rival the likes of Liverpool and Blackpool

Exciting future: an ambitious project will deliver a contemporary waterfront to rival the likes of Liverpool and Blackpool

In east Belfast, which I have been proud to represent for 34 years, our two great yellow giants, Samson and Goliath, still stand tall. They are poignant symbols of Belfast, given it was the harbour and its shipbuilders that helped first put the city on the map.

As a member of Belfast City Council, I had the privilege of serving as a Harbour Commissioner and quickly came to understand the long-term planning that went into the success of the harbour and its significant value to the Northern Ireland economy.

Recently, the Belfast Harbour Commissioners renewed their £254m vision for the future: Samson and Goliath, along with the Titanic Museum, are to form the basis for an iconic, contemporary waterfront to rival the likes of Liverpool and Blackpool.

This waterfront project will be part of multiple interlinked developments, which the Commissioners envisage will make Belfast a world-leading regional port once again.

Joe O'Neill, CEO of the Harbour Commissioners, stated that, "while uncertainty remains rife around the final Brexit arrangement, the harbour remains confident it can meet any requirements placed upon it".

I hope that the Government will finalise these trade arrangements as soon as possible, reinforcing the trade links between Northern Ireland and Great Britain (responsible for 70% of total trade).

To realise their vision of Northern Ireland as a global front-runner in modern port enterprises, the Harbour Commissioners plan to invest £100m in infrastructure.

This will include facilities for an additional Stena Line service to Birkenhead, automated cranes and digitised shipping lanes. The plans will see £30m spent on real estate and £60m on five-star office space.

This regeneration will feature a 250-apartment City Quays building and a five-storey facility for Catalyst Inc. Addressing the need for social responsibility, the Commissioners will ensure 20-25% of the residential accommodation is allocated to social housing. Given the recent success of Game of Thrones and the wider local film industry, six additional filming studios are to be added to the current pair already in use.

These new studios will allow for up to 800 additional jobs. Research from Ulster University estimates the harbour currently supports 46,000 jobs.

These additional investments are expected to generate 7,000 new employment opportunities and support a further 3,500 construction jobs.

This could add £500m in gross value to Northern Ireland's economy. On top of this, the extra jobs and buildings will account for £300m in wages and £4m in rates being paid into the city per annum.

Many of my generation hold a fondness for the days of shipbuilding. It is important to remember our past fondly - but also to look to potential future growth.

The harbour aims to be "A Port for Everyone" and seeks to invest in people, as well as property.

Working in partnership with The Prince's Trust and the Active Communities Network, the harbour is one of Northern Ireland's largest investors in employability skills and community-building initiatives.

The harbour funds several school programmes, including the Time-to-Code initiative, a three-year programme for 5,000 students to develop in-demand coding skills. Money also goes to help more disadvantaged communities through local social programmes, such as the EastSide Partnership.

History records the harbour's long economic and logistical achievements. For 400 years, it has served us as a gateway to Great Britain and beyond.

By looking forward positively, the Harbour Commissioners are actively building upon their rich heritage.

These exciting plans will only help Northern Ireland to grow and thrive.

Our trade links to Great Britain are vital as the lifeblood of our economy.

An investment in the resilient and strongly beating heart of Belfast is a solid investment in us all.

Robin Newton is DUP MLA for East Belfast

Belfast Telegraph