by Richard Buckley, Editor, Business Eye

Belfast Harbour has reported that its capital investment spend during 2018 was up 24% to £52 million and that the Port is committed to a further £137 million of projects to help deliver on its aim to make Belfast Harbour a leading regional Port and to develop an iconic waterfront for Belfast. The investments were funded by a strong financial performance in 2018, however, Belfast Harbour has predicted a challenging operating environment going forward.


Turnover grew by 11% to £68.8 million and operating profits increased by 6% to £36 million. This performance was underpinned by an increase in trade handled through Belfast which rose by almost 4% to more than 24 million tonnes for the first time.

Belfast Harbour also benefited from income generated from regeneration projects in the Harbour Estate including the Belfast Harbour Film Studios and the City Quays development, which during 2018 saw the new AC Marriott Hotel added to two Grade ‘A’ office buildings already completed.

Also during 2018 work began on projects totalling £64 million to upgrade facilities at Victoria Terminals 2 and 3 which service ferry routes and container traffic. Belfast Harbour also purchased the world’s largest hydraulic crane to enhance cargo handling capacity and invested £4 million on maintaining its deep-water berth at Stormont Wharf.

David Dobbin, Belfast Harbour’s Chairman, said:

As a Trust Port we have to fund our own development. Every penny of our net earnings is reinvested into improving and developing our facilities for the benefit of Port users and the wider economy. Along with others our investment in Belfast’s inner harbour is rapidly creating an iconic waterfront for the city making it an attractive and safe place to live, work and visit. At a time when the port sector is facing considerable change it is encouraging that our financial performance is generating the funding we need to respond to new challenges and opportunities.

Trends in shipping and freight handling technology mean that there is an ever greater need for investment in infrastructure to support larger, more hi-tech vessels and more automated and efficient cargo handling.

The outlook for the current year is for a fall in Port trade with a weather related decline in animal feedstuffs after two record years, and for the continued decline in power station and domestic coal demand. We have also seen the completion of the current round of wind turbine contracts in the Irish Sea. We are responding to these challenges and to trends in the wider economy, such as the shift from spend on traded goods to tradeable services and leisure, and from fossil fuels to renewable energy. In this evolving market our vision is to provide best-in-class facilities to our current and future customers. We aim to become the most efficient, environmentally responsible and digitally enabled regional port in the world with an iconic waterfront.”

Joe O’Neill, Belfast Harbour’s CEO, said:

Despite our strong financial performance, Belfast Harbour is operating in a rapidly changing market environment. Diversification of trade has been a long-standing feature of the Belfast Harbour business model. This has helped protect the business from cyclical trends in specific sectors and the long-term decline of others, such as liquid hydro carbon fuels and coal imports.

We also face the prospect of an acceleration in technological changes. These require long-term investments to ensure that key port users such as Northern Ireland’s ferry operators, importers and exporters, and international cruise line visitors all continue to access the best maritime facilities.

The success of property projects such as City Quays and the Belfast Harbour Film Studios is creating new jobs and economic growth as well as generating additional income for the Port to fund further investment.”

During 2018, 5,788 ships arrived at Belfast Harbour. Stena Line’s commitment to provide additional capacity on its Great Britain routes helped freight vehicle traffic increase by 3% to a record 532,000 vehicles while passenger numbers exceeded 1.5 million for the second year running including some 200,000 cruise ship passengers.

Animal and grain feed tonnages rose by 7% to 2.3 million tonnes. Exports of aggregates increased by 100,000 tonnes to over 1.5 million tonnes as demand from GB construction projects continued to grow.

In 2018 Belfast Harbour completed the construction of a 900-space multi-storey car park and a four-star Marriott hotel in City Quays, and secured planning permission for a further 250,000 sq ft Grade ‘A’ office, City Quays 3. In addition, £15 million was committed to fund the development of 120,000 sq ft of new office space at Catalyst Inc, which is located within Belfast Harbour Estate.

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