Commercial market ripe for FDI despite political uncertainty

Details of a first ever Belfast city centre apart-hotel were revealed on day one of MIPIM in Cannes.

HAROLD Wilson, the twice Labour Prime Minister during one of the greatest periods of social and industrial change in the twentieth century, once said; ‘a week is a long time in politics’.

Half a century on and it could be argued that a week in today’s politics is now a lifetime and if the last fortnight is anything to go by, opinions of politicians seem to be changeable on the hour, every hour.

Brexit is leaving an indelible mark on politics in the UK and by the time this article goes to print where the UK will be in terms of its potential future relationship with the EU is anyone’s guess.

The Brexit outcome, it seems, is as sure as May’s future in No 10 and on the home front, if Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley is to be believed, there is no sign of any new talks process at Stormont to re-establish an assembly until after the local government elections towards the end of May at the earliest.

So what for ‘our wee country’? Are we destined for an indefinite economic malaise as the UK and EU continue never ending negotiations on Brexit?...

Hopefully not. On the face of it while the resulting uncertainty of Brexit and Stormont deadlock hang heavy in the air, commercially Belfast is pushing on and there have been notable breaks in the fog.

In March, Belfast’s MIPIM delegation outlined details of two multi-million-pound investments - a first ever city centre apart-hotel and a prime landmark grade A office scheme - on day one of the international real estate investment conference in Cannes. This was followed by several more high-profile announcements that all point towards a vibrant city centre office market ripe for foreign direct investment.

Last week then saw the approval of the highly anticipated £350m city deal for Belfast by Karen Bradley alongside the announcement she was continuing to work on a deal for Derry.

When it comes to fruition the deal will see the UK Government invest £350m into the Belfast region over the next 15 years with the Northern Ireland Executive expected to add at least a further £350m and councils to contribute over £100m.

By all accounts the city deal, anticipated to be further bolstered by co-investment of upwards of £150m from Belfast Region City Deal partners and investment by the private sector, could provide a total investment package of over £1bn.

What’s the catch you say?...

The city deal, that will see the delivery of more than 20 projects to help create up to 20,000 new jobs, is dependent on, you guessed it, devolved institutions being restored at Stormont.

The success of the deal sits firmly in the hands of our politicians and is their ball to drop with the game beginning this summer. Here’s hoping the secretary of state’s proposed talks and potential restoration of the executive bear more fruit than her prime minister’s efforts to deliver Brexit.

:: 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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