Major Belfast office schemes press ahead despite uncertainty over future demand

Artist's impression of the completed McAleer and Rushe project, The Vantage.
Ryan McAleer

PROPERTY developers and investors have signalled their intent to proceed with major office schemes in Belfast, despite uncertainty over the future of demand for office space.

McAleer and Rushe has confirmed it will release 67,500 sq ft of grade office space onto the market in the second quarter of 2021 after a £25m investment in ‘The Vantage’.

The Co Tyrone firm has added another two floors to its 30-year-old building on Great Victoria Street, which was occupied by the Housing Executive between 1992 and 2019.

It will immediately compete with The Lighthouse in the Gasworks (60,000 sq ft) and 20 Adelaide Street (20,000 sq ft), which are among the biggest schemes currently available on the Belfast office market.

Between 2015 and 2019, an average of 500,000 sq ft a year of office space was taken up in the city.

But the impact of Covid-19 decimated new deals in the first six months of 2020.

Analysis by Lambert Smith and Hampton (LSH) last month concluded that the general success of offices implementing working from home has the potential to create significant long-term change in the office occupier market.

McAleer and Rushe has invested £25m in The Vantage building on Great Victoria Street.

However, the same report found that despite the weak take-up, the availability of office space in Belfast during the first half of 2020 (430,807 sq ft), was the lowest on record.

LSH anticipates that while potential occupiers may alter their priorities, the lower costs of Belfast will continue to attract interest, particularly from the tech sector.

Invest NI has also long made the case for more grade A office development in the city, as a carrot for potential inward investors.

LSH’s report from August noted 1.1 million sq ft of office space currently under development or refurbishment in Belfast, including 920,322 sq ft new build.

Work is well under way on Belfast Harbour’s 16 storey City Quays 3 building, which will likely add 250,000 sq ft of offices by next year.

Belfast Harbour is also developing 150,000 sq ft of office with Titanic Quarter Ltd via Olympic House. Work on the project commenced in March 2020.

Wirefox is due to bring another 200,000 sq ft to the market by 2022 through its £45m speculative office project, The Paper Exchange on Chichester Street.

The projects will be closely watched by the backers of other massive office schemes in the pipeline for Belfast.

Ashmour and Bywater is still seeking planning approval for its £60m plan to build 235,000 sq ft of office, co-working and workshop space on a large site on North Street, close to CastleCourt.

A 14-storey office development on Grosvenor Road, known as G5, is also at the proposal stage.

But the impact of Covid-19 on the office place could have a major bearing on the future of two of the biggest schemes planned for Belfast, the £500m Tribeca project and the £450m Belfast Waterside development.

Castlebrooke Investments has already secured outline planning approval for its massive series of developments. It intends to build around 500,000 sq ft of offices.

The recently approved masterplan for Belfast Waterside on the former Sirocco Works site provides for some 855,000 sq of office space.

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