Belfast Harbour has suggested that an upturn in trade through the Port during the first quarter of 2010 may indicate that the Northern Ireland economy is over the worst of the economic downturn. The upbeat assessment was made as the Harbour Authority published its 2009 Annual Report which reflected an increase in Turnover by £0.4m to £33.1m and a rise in Operating Profits by £0.3m to £15.1m. Profits before Taxation & Exceptional Item stood at £19m.
The Exceptional Item related to a £13.9m contribution towards the new Titanic Signature Building in Titanic Quarter. Other capital investment projects with a value of £24m, including the development of the island’s longest deep-water berth, were also completed.
Overall trade during 2009 fell by 4% to 15.7m, reflecting the continuing impact of the difficult trading environment in the economy generally. Belfast, however, outperformed other Irish ports such as Dublin and Cork, and increased its market share of the Irish Sea Roll-On / Roll-Off sector to 20%.
Trades associated with the agri-food sector recorded double digit growth and passenger numbers rose strongly by 3% to 1.33m. Looking forward, trading figures from the start of 2010 suggest that there has been an upturn in business activity.
Commenting on the results, Len O’Hagan, Belfast Harbour’s Chairman, said:
“2009 was a difficult year for the economy, but initial figures from quarter one of this year suggest, however, that economic activity is on the up with both imports and exports through the Port increasing.
“While economic uncertainty has slowed down the pace of investment by Belfast Harbour, a number of major projects have been initiated or completed, not least the Titanic Signature Building which is also supported by the Northern Ireland Executive, Belfast City Council and Titanic Quarter Ltd. The project is the single most important regeneration project underway in Belfast Harbour Estate and will help drive significant tourism and investment interest in Northern Ireland generally.
“Maritime related projects included a major upgrade of the Harbour’s road access at Dargan to Northern Ireland’s motorway network; an extension of our deep-water facilities which were used by 35 cruise ships; a 70% increase in handling capacity for paper imports and a new £6m storage facility for the agri-food sector. Over the past few years Belfast Harbour has invested heavily in new infrastructure and we will continue to upgrade and develop new facilities to meet the long-term demands of the local economy.”
The report noted other regeneration projects within the Harbour Estate such as the completion of a 50,000 sq ft facility by the Northern Ireland Science Park and ongoing work at Belfast Metropolitan College’s new campus and PRONI’s new headquarters, all within Titanic Quarter.
Mr. O’Hagan also praised Harbour employees who contributed 10,000 employee hours towards the planning and hosting of the Tall Ships Festival which attracted up to 500,000 visitors to the Harbour Estate in August 2009, making it Northern Ireland’s largest ever outdoor event. A further 10,000 people visited Belfast Harbour Office, attending charitable, education and business-related events facilitated by the Harbour Authority as part of its community programme.