Belfast Harbour to invest up to £35m in film studios expansion

Belfast Harbour is set to invest up to £35 million in a major expansion of its film production facilities on the Dargan Road
Gareth McKeown

BELFAST Harbour is set to invest up to £35 million in a major expansion of its film production facilities as part of continuous development along the city's waterside.

Fresh from the success of Game of Thrones, the Belfast port, which yesterday announced record-breaking financial results, has announced plans to almost treble the capacity at its studio at Giant's Park - a move that could create "at least" 300 new jobs.

A Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) is due to be submitted tomorrow for a 110,000 sq ft facility and it is hoped planning approval could be granted by the middle of next year. This would pave the way for construction to begin ahead of a potential opening in 2021.

The current Dargan Road site houses two stages totalling 66,000 sq ft, which were built just over three years ago following a £22m investment.

Speaking to The Irish News, Joe O’Neill, Belfast Harbour’s chief executive said the expansion is a response to growing demand within the film and TV industry.

"It is a sector that's particularly buoyant at this moment in time," he explained.

"All of the established studio operators, such as Disney are looking for space and then you have new entrants like Netflix, Amazon and Apple. They're all looking for space."

Warner Bros currently leases the existing studio site to make Superman prequel series Krypton and Mr O'Neill said they, along with other leading multinational entertainment companies would be interested in working in Belfast.

The plans for the film studio site are part of an ongoing multi-million pound development programme at the Belfast Harbour estate.

The Harbour has made a commitment of £137m towards projects including the new £51m City Quays 3 office block, as well as a £40m investment in the replacement of all the cranes and handling equipment in the port's container terminal.

The pledge also covers the £15m redevelopment of Victoria Terminal 2 to accommodate the berthing of Stena Line’s new E-Flexer ships.

Other ongoing work includes the 150,000 sq ft Olympic House office project on the Queen's Road. The £30m office block is currently out to tender and could be complete by the middle of 2021.

It can also be revealed that residential development is set to form a core part of future investment along the waterside, with a new apartment scheme due to make up the final portion of the City Quays scheme.

"We have one remaining waterfront site in our City Quays development, which we're looking to bring forward for potential private rental sector apartment opportunity," Mr O'Neill said.

"The private rental sector is a big emerging sector in other cities, particularly Manchester and Liverpool, but it has not yet had any projects take off in Belfast. We see an opportunity to provide a site for that and invest in an apartment block to meet demand in the private rental sector."

The proposed apartment scheme forms part of the overall Belfast Agenda, which calls for an additional 66,000 people to be living in the city by 2035.

Housing is also set to form an integral part of future development within 100 acres of undeveloped land within the Titanic Quarter, as part of a new masterplan, being jointly devised by Belfast Harbour and Titanic Quarter Ltd.

The plans from Belfast Harbour come as its annual results revealed a 11 per cent jump in annual turnover to £68.8m. The port also grew operating profits by 6 per cent to £36m, largely boosted by a 4 per cent uplift in trade handled, which rose to over 24 million tonnes for the first time.

Capital investment at Belfast Harbour was up 24 per cent to £52m last year, while 5,788 ships docked.

Freight traffic increased by 3 per cent to a record 532,000 vehicles and passenger numbers exceeded 1.5 million for the second year running including some 200,000 cruise ship passengers.

Animal and grain feed tonnages as well as exports of aggregates also grew.

Chairman David Dobbin said the latest figures are encouraging in a challenging environment.

"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," he added.

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