Business

Caterpillar moves ahead with plans to sell off west Belfast office complex

Caterpillar's Millennium offices in west Belfast, which is now up for sale for £3.5 million. Picture by Justin Kernoghan.
Ryan McAleer

CATERPILLAR is to close its extensive administrative operation in west Belfast after putting the office buildings on the market for £3.5 million.

The US giant first raised the potential sale of the Millennium offices building at Springvale Business Park in November 2020, when it announced plans to cut 700 jobs from its 1,600 strong Northern Ireland workforce.

The cuts primarily affect its plant in Larne, where it makes diesel fuelled generator sets.

The Springvale manufacturing facility, which makes axles and transmissions for trucks, has been largely unaffected and is not part of the latest sale.

Caterpillar said in November that it was “considering the sale” of its administrative centre in west Belfast.

Now the company has followed through, placing the substantial campus up for sale.

It includes a 53,000 sq ft office, with a second smaller 8,500 sq ft building.

The site is ultimately owned by Invest NI, but Caterpillar signed a 999 lease in 2007.

 The site placed on the market by Caterpillar.

A spokesperson for the economic support agency said its consent was not required ahead of the sale.

Although most of its administrative staff are now working from home, Caterpillar said in November that employees would relocate to Larne should the sale go ahead.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Caterpillar said: "In November 2020, Caterpillar announced it was contemplating the sale of the Millennium office building located at Springvale Business Park. The property has now gone on the market, and those employees remaining with the business will relocate to other Northern Ireland facilities.”

The sale comes 18 months after Caterpillar outsourced finance and accounting operations to professional services firm Accenture.

It’s believed around 100 jobs at the Springvale offices were affected by that move.

Formerly known as FG Wilson, Caterpillar’s workforce in the north had stood at around the 3,000 mark a decade ago. But it has struggled in recent years, closing its Monkstown factory in 2016 and later selling part of the Springvale site.

The latest set of accounts for the US giant’s Northern Ireland operation show it recorded a pre-tax loss of £11.8 million in 2019, bringing to £43m its total pre-tax losses for the 36 months ending December 31 2019.

The listing price of £3.5m for the Springvale campus is not inclusive of VAT, which could put any deal beyond £4m.

 Caterpillar's large open plan offices at Springvale Business Park.

But with more and more major employers implementing flexible working policies for their office-based staff, it’s unclear what the appetite will be for Caterpillar’s Millennium offices.

Hughes Insurance became the first major business in the north to commit to home-working on a permanent basis for its 250-strong workforce.

Last month The Irish News first revealed how the Northern Ireland Civil Service was planning up to ten regional hubs across the north to allow its staff to work closer to home.

But a KPMG survey of 500 chief executives from major global companies last week found that just 17 per cent are seeking to downsize their office space as a result of the pandemic.

However, one-in-four said their business model has been changed forever by the pandemic.

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