Port of Belfast unveils £630m expansion plan

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The Independent Online

A massive investment by the Port of Belfast aimed at powering economic growth over the next 20 years was unveiled yesterday.

The £630m project will reclaim 120 acres of land from Belfast Lough to provide extra quays, berths, and deeper channels in order to accommodate the province's growing international trade.

The plan was announced as an economic report showed that around 25 per cent of jobs in Northern Ireland were supported by port activity. Last year the port handled over 60 per cent of Northern Ireland's imports and exports worth £19.5bn.

"Recent events have transformed our political landscape and a new chapter in Northern Ireland life has opened," Len O'Hagan, chairman of the Belfast Harbour Commission, said yesterday. "We must ensure that Northern Ireland has the infrastructure in place, the terminals, the quays, the warehouses and the roads to successfully manage the projected growth."

Roy Adair, the port's chief executive, said: "Economic growth means that the current port land resources will be exhausted and it is for this reason that we plan to reclaim 120 acres from Belfast Lough. The land will support an additional 6km of quayside."

The report, produced by a London-based research consultancy, forecasts that the Port of Belfast will need to invest heavily by 2025 to cater to an expected doubling of traffic, if Northern Ireland is to match economic activity in the rest of the UK.

The study estimates that the port and its related activities support around 187,000 jobs - 27 per cent of the total workforce and 31 per cent of the region's economic value.

It is estimated that 17,000 people - around 19 per cent of the population of Belfast - work within the harbour area. The port and its tenants pay over £11m a year in rates, just over 8 per cent of Belfast City Council's total income.

The Port of Belfast has generated some of Northern Ireland's most important economic urban regeneration projects: the Odyssey complex, Northern Ireland Science Park, Clarendon docks, Sydenham business park, Belfast city airport - which was built on port land - and the Titanic quarter, where over 25,000 homes will be built over the next 25 to 30 years.

The port began on a modest scale within the heart of the city, but as it grew to need deeper water it moved out to develop reclaimed land from Belfast Lough.