The strong performance of Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector was the principal driver of increased activity with a record two million tonnes of grain and animal feed imported into Belfast. Imports of fertiliser products also jumped by 32%, reflecting major investments in recent years by the Harbour to establish Belfast as the island’s leading dry bulk port.
Freight vehicle traffic also increased by 2% to 313,000 vehicles carried, partly in response to the introduction of new, larger vessels on the Belfast – Heysham route.
Belfast Harbour Chairman, Len O’Hagan, said:
“Although trading conditions in the UK and Ireland remain weak, the increase in tonnages handled by Belfast Harbour suggests that business confidence is starting to return, albeit slowly.
“Belfast Harbour continues to operate in a highly competitive port sector, but I am pleased to note that the £160m which the Harbour invested in new facilities during the past decade has enabled it to emerge from the downturn with new customers and a presence in new sectors such as renewable energy.
“Although it may be some time before the economy returns to full health, we’re confident, particularly with the prospect of Corporation Tax being cut, that Northern Ireland’s outlook is good. Over the long-term that will require further investment in a variety of new marine facilities.”
Capital investments worth almost £6m were undertaken during 2010, including the purchase of a new mobile crane, a 10,000 sq ft expansion in logistics space and preliminary works to support the proposed development of an offshore wind turbine terminal for DONG Energy. In total, capital expenditure projects in excess of £60m were initiated during the year.
Developments within Belfast Harbour Estate included progress on a number of projects at Titanic Quarter such as the Public Record Office, Belfast Metropolitan College and the ‘Titanic Belfast’ visitor attraction. Master-planning for City Quays, a 24-acre mixed-use development adjacent to the Harbour Office, was also secured and planning permission for an additional 230,000 sq ft of space at Sydenham Business Park was lodged.
Mr. O’Hagan added:
“While marine operations remain at the core of Belfast Harbour’s activities, property projects remain an integral part of the Harbour Authority’s business model.
“Belfast Harbour Estate is the single largest concentration of urban regeneration schemes within Northern Ireland, stimulating economic activity, improving Belfast’s built environment and creating a focal point for overseas investors. Our vision is that Harbour-related investments will continue to be a major stimulant for economic activity across Northern Ireland.”
The report also noted that initial work had been completed on a marina at Abercorn Basin with plans now progressing for the development of a 250-berth full-service leisure facility.