Business

A year of opportunity for commercial property

The 171-bed Premier Inn in Belfast's Waring Street, has come to the market with a price tag of £12.75 million

JANUARY is usually a quiet time in the commercial property world, where owners and occupiers alike take stock and make plans for the year ahead. In that vein, 2022 is no different than previous years, save for the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the Prime Minister and the Protocol.

Focus on issues relating to the Protocol has been overshadowed by issues in Downing Street, hence we have heard little on the arguments for and against the Protocol. There is no doubt the Protocol has introduced barriers to trade and increased the volume of paperwork required to trade within the UK, but it is difficult to extract the precise effects of the Protocol given other issues surrounding our economy.

Business in the main has responded well to the challenges of the Protocol, and although the service sector is least affected by it, it is useful to note that the service sector economic output in Northern Ireland hit a 13-year high during the third quarter of 2021, with economic output 4.6 per cent up on the same period in 2020. With the Northern Ireland economy three per cent bigger in the third quarter of 2021 than at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Manufacturing NI have also clearly stated that the Protocol is not the biggest issue facing them. Almost 60 per cent of their members surveyed said that access to labour was their biggest issue, with more than 1,100 vacancies reported in January. Nine out of 10 firms in Northern Ireland have also noted supply chain problems, such as increased shipping costs, and whilst NI firms are well versed in the Protocol a more significant issue is the limited knowledge that firms elsewhere in the UK have on this issue. Only 12 per cent having a detailed knowledge of the Protocol and one third having either little or no knowledge of what it entails.

Given that the Protocol will ultimately become a political football, it is not surprising to note that invest NI has not commented on whether the Brexit Protocol has been good for the economy in its first year.

2022 has seen little in the way of new commercial investment product coming to the market, save for the Premier Inn Hotel on Waring Street in Belfast. The 171 bed hotel and adjoining property has a price tag of £12.75 million, and a combined rent roll of £695,000 a year.

It is, however, encouraging to note that the 120,000 sq ft Richmond Centre in Londonderry was sold to the Martin Group just before Christmas and that the various retail parks that were on the market at the tail end of last year, including Braidwater in Ballymena, Merchants Quay in Newry and Abbey Trading Estate, have either all traded or are under offer.

As we look forward to the remainder of the year, it is clear that the business community wants political stability in Northern Ireland with the Chamber of Commerce urging our politicians to progress talks between the UK and the EU and avoid triggering Article 16.

Leadership is needed from both Stormont and Downing Street if we are to take advantage of the unique position that Northern Ireland has given our dual market access.

Even though the Protocol may not be perfect, our politicians should look on it as an opportunity to improve the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland. We do not want to look back on 2022 as a year of wasted opportunity.

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

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