Harbour looks to the future on 400th anniversary

Historic site now home to 650 comapnies and thriving Titanic attraction

Since Titanic Belfast  opened in 2012  more than 800,000 people have visited it,  delivered an estimated £54.3 million tourist spend boost to Northern Ireland. Photograph:  Titanic Belfast/PA Wire

Since Titanic Belfast opened in 2012 more than 800,000 people have visited it, delivered an estimated £54.3 million tourist spend boost to Northern Ireland. Photograph: Titanic Belfast/PA Wire

Tue, Apr 30, 2013, 06:00

Belfast Harbour is gearing up to welcome a record 60 cruise ships and potentially more than 100,000 visitors to the city this summer, thanks in part to what it is describing as the Titanic effect.

The irony of cruise ship enthusiasts coming to visit the city where the most famous, ill-fated cruise ship of its day was built may not be lost on some.

But the global appeal of the £97 million Titanic Belfast attraction has proved without a doubt to be a major economic success in its first year of business.

Since it opened last March more than 800,000 people have visited Titanic Belfast. This has delivered an estimated £54.3 million boost in terms of tourist spend for Northern Ireland, and its pulling power has also helped to sustain 970 full-time jobs in the city.

But the Titanic attraction is not the only success Belfast Harbour – which directly helped to fund it with a £13.6 million donation – is celebrating.

The harbour is officially 400 years in business this year, and it is determined to mark the anniversary by “continuing its ethos of helping create what it is to be Belfast”, according to its chairman Len O’Hagan.

The harbour plays as crucial an economic role in the day-to-day life of the city as it did when development of the port of Belfast first began in 1613.

Today it is home not only to the port of Belfast but to more than 650 companies from Bombardier to CitiGroup and, of course, its longest standing tenants Harland and Wolff.

More than 17,000 people are estimated to go to work every day in some part of the harbour estate which covers 2,000 acres.

Over the last 20 years Belfast Harbour has spearheaded various development projects – from Titanic Quarter to new retail parks – that have a combined gross development value of some £1.5 billion.

According to O’Hagan, the 400th anniversary is not just a time to look back on its achievements but also to look forward. “The reason this port continues to thrive and grow is because it takes the long view – not of the past, but of the future.”

Latest trade figures show the port’s core business as a maritime gateway and logistics hub grew last year. It handled a record 19.6 million tonnes in trade last year, while passenger numbers also increased to 1.4 million people.

O’Hagan believes it is also important to recognise the contribution the harbour and the port has made and continues to make to the city and its development. He highlights multi-million projects such as the Odyssey – built on a former scrapyard at the harbour – and the expansion of the Northern Ireland Science Park in the Titanic Quarter as examples of a thriving partnership between the city and the port.

Around a third of all jobs in the North are directly and indirectly supported by Belfast Harbour, O’Hagan argues, and he is determined to build on this.

He believes the harbour’s latest investment – a purpose-built £50 million 50-acre off-shore wind terminal – will help create “new green collar jobs” in Belfast.

Dong Energy and ScottishPower Renewables have signed a lease for the terminal which will be used to support the development of their new wind farm in the Irish Sea.

100 turbines
It is expected that 100 turbines will be shipped from Belfast to the west of Duddon Sands wind farm. Assembly of these turbines could create work for up to 300 welders, engineers and electricians in the harbour estate.

O Hagan says: “Belfast Harbour has endured and survived wars, depressions, pestilence and constitutional crisis, but it’s done more than just survive; it’s helped shape and build our economy, and help inform what it is to be from Belfast.

“That, I hope, is our legacy, but we also want it to be our future.”

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