Stability is what we need to thrive

There are cranes across Belfast's skyline again and the city is starting to show real signs of life

NOBODY would question the challenges Northern Ireland has faced during almost a decade since the property crash, with the events of 2007/2008 casting a lengthy shadow. That said, as a shadow lengthens it fades and, almost 10 years on, the future is at last looking somewhat brighter.

The cautious optimism that permeated 2015 and 2016 is now transitioning into real opportunity and, month on month, confidence levels are being buoyed as propositions become projects. Significant developments are starting to come online in Belfast, there are once again cranes across our skyline and the city is starting to show real signs of life, even despite last year's concerns in the wake of the Brexit vote.

It is no secret that the hospitality sector is in a period of rapid growth and long-awaited hotel beds are no longer a pipe-dream but an upcoming reality. Retail is continuing to show growth and almost every day it seems another big-name brand is setting out its stall to take advantage of the pounds in the Northern Ireland shoppers' pockets.

Add to this increasing student accommodation across the city alongside the development of the new Ulster University campus and, maybe not enough, but at least some, desperately needed Grade A office accommodation becoming available, and you can see boundaries being redefined and long-awaited regeneration taking place.

Indeed, the recent announcement of plans for a £400 million regeneration of the 16-acre former Sirocco Works site in east Belfast - and the potential of the 5,300 jobs it will create as a modern, mixed-use development with city centre offices, homes and leisure facilities developed - backs up the argument that the city has plenty to give and that investors are prepared to take advantage of the opportunities Belfast has to offer.

That said, investors work by assessing risk and reward, and recent political uncertainty caused by the snap election following the breakdown of the Assembly did little to instil confidence that Stormont, as we move forward, can clearly represent the economic, social and political interests of Northern Ireland at even the local, never mind the UK and European, level.

A functioning power-sharing administration is a key factor in ensuring economic stability and moving forward. As we come out of a period of prolonged depression, any lack of stability is the last thing we need, particularly as we're at last gaining positive momentum.

We shouldn't forget the many by-products of economic growth. FDI will create jobs but our workforce needs to be skilled to meet the demands of incoming industries, while effective infrastructure is required to get workers to and from workplaces. And, let's not forget people need places to live.

Infrastructure, education and housing are all issues that ultimately need to be addressed at government level and there is an expectation from those who have, and those who may, invest in the province that our government will get back to governing and tackle these challenges.

Let's hope that lessons have been learnt over the last three months by all parties and, as the Executive aims to reconvene, the agenda is more progressive than partisan.

:: Declan Flynn is managing director of Belfast-based commercial property agency Lisney, which works on behalf of many of Northern Ireland's most significant investors and developers as well as major retailers and businesses.


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