Business

There's positive news on the economic front

The Fairhill Shopping Centre was sold to a company owned by Walkers Garages of Ballymena

WITH two of our major banks reporting positive news on the economic front the prospects for the Northern Ireland economy look good for the remainder of 2021.

But as usual here, when we take one step forward we very soon take one step back, as evidenced by the ever changing First Minister and traditional tribal politics over the NI Protocol .

Not withstanding that, it's important to note that Danske Bank has reported that our economy is on course to grow by 6.2 per cent in 2021, which is a significant improvement in predicted levels of growth in previous quarters.

Similarly. the Ulster Bank is reporting that company payrolls could return to pre pandemic levels with the latest government labour market data showing the number of people on HMRC payrolls increased by around 5,000 during May, the highest payroll figure since March 2020.

Almost two-thirds of jobs lost due to the pandemic have now been recovered and anecdotally we continually hear from clients who are finding it difficult to fill positions at all levels throughout their organisations

In the commercial property sector we have seen a significant increase in the number of properties coming to the market, with properties like Shane retail park and Antrim technology park receiving considerable interest. We have not as yet seen the depth of the buyer market and it will be a month or two before we can fully understand levels of demand from investors and developers alike

Properties that have sold include 13 care homes operated by Four Seasons Healthcare which were bought by Ann's Care Homes and the sale of Fairhill shopping centre to a company owned by Walkers Garages of Ballymena.

As you will be aware, the shifts in shopping patterns have had a devastating affect on many shopping centres and their values have tumbled accordingly. Fairhill was sold in 2016 to a private equity fund for £46 million and was brought to the market earlier this year asking £10m. We understand that the sale price agreed was significantly less than the asking figure and that there were few buyers for this type of asset.

In a surprising turn of events we have also seen the green light given for the development of the old Unipork site in Enniskillen. The development includes five retail units, a hotel, cinema, indoor play centre, bowling alley and two garden centres. It also involves a coffee pod, drive-thru restaurant and a fuel station on the vacant site, which lies between the South West Acute Hospital and Enniskillen's town centre. In a narrow decision where the chairman of the planning committee had to cast his vote it is likely that we will see continued challenges to this decision with round one going the developer's way.

As we emerge from the economic doldrums caused by the pandemic it is great to see positive projections of our local banks. The challenge is now to combine the positive outlook with some political stability for the benefit of all.

:: Declan Flynn (dflynn@lisney.com) is managing director of Lisney (www.lisney.com)

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