Belfast Harbour is to invest £120 million in new infrastructure projects on the back of a record-breaking year for profits.
The harbour’s annual report has revealed turnover increased four per cent to £52.6 million in 2014, while pre-tax profits rose by eith per cent to a record £29.4m.
The strong performance was also good news for the Exchequer as the port paid £10m in tax during the year, the most it has ever paid out.
The annual report was published as the Tall Ships Festival returned to the city’s quaysides, with 500,000 visitors expected to visit the maritime extravaganza in the coming days.
Growth in the volume of trade through the harbour, particularly the freight traffic sector, which was up over two per cent to 476,000 vehicles, contributed to the positive financial results.
More bulk cargo, such as coal and animal feed, also transited through the harbour, bringing dry bulk trade to over seven million tonnes for the first time.
In the past five years the harbour has invested £100m in new infrastructure projects and further development totalling £120m is now in the pipeline.
Planned projects include an upgrade of the harbour’s roll-on/roll-off facilities, enhanced container handling capability and cruise ship facilities.
The harbour is in the middle of a major construction project to build a number of grade-A office buildings.
When complete, the £250m, 20-acre City Quays scheme is expected to support 10,000 jobs, the harbour said.
David Dobbin, Belfast Harbour’s chairman, said: “Belfast Harbour has successfully come through the global recession by investing heavily to diversify its business activities and to improve the competitiveness of its operations.
“Although growth in trade has slowed over the past year, the total throughput through the port at 23 million tonnes is now 47 per cent above low point of the recession in 2009.
“There is, however, little room for complacency given the fragile nature of the recovery and the negative impact which a stronger sterling is having upon local exporters.
“The harbour’s strategy of long-term investment for long-term growth has served us well. This will continue through a pipeline of capital expenditure projects totalling £120 million.
Projects include a bespoke cruise facility and addressing the continuing shortage of Grade A office accommodation in Belfast by further developing the City Quays scheme. Last week, the board approved a £20m spend on the City Quays 2 building.”
The City Quays 1 building is now finished and legal firm Baker & McKenzie is the new anchor tenant. Work on City Quays 2 is due to get under way soon.
Mr Dobbin added: “As an entirely self-funded business with no recourse to the public purse or private finance, there is a clear linkage between the harbour’s ability to invest and grow and its financial performance.
“Every penny of the harbour’s earnings are retained within the business and reinvested to develop port facilities and real estate, creating much needed jobs and driving regional development. This year’s record financial performance gives the harbour a strong basis from which to support future growth.
“Belfast Harbour is an integral part of the life and economy of Northern Ireland, as demonstrated by the 500,000 visitors anticipated at this weekend’s Tall Ships Festival.”