30 November 2012

The Belfast office market has received a welcome boost in recent months following the letting of prime office accommodation within two of Belfast’s landmark buildings, The Boat and The North Tower Building in Clarendon Dock Business Park.  Companies either expanding their business operations locally or entering the Northern Irish market for the first time have acquired circa 20,000 sq ft of office space cumulatively. Iconic building and winner of the prestigious LEAF architectural award 2011 Mixed Use Building of the Year, The Boat, welcomes two new occupants, the British Council, which is re-locating from premises elsewhere in the city centre and Pharmalink Consulting.  Pharmalink Consulting is the world’s largest independent Regulatory Affairs specialists in pharmaceuticals and associated healthcare products with offices in the USA, India and mainland Britain.  Moving into The Boat marks the company’s first foray into the Irish market.  Meanwhile, leading accountancy firm, Grant Thornton, continues to expand its Belfast operations by taking an additional 4,000 sq ft of space within North Tower at Clarendon Dock Business Park. The company already occupies offices at Clarendon Dock and earlier this year acquired new premises in Belfast city centre due to increased levels of business activity.  

It is extremely encouraging to see companies that are either expanding or entering the Northern Ireland market for the first time and it is clear that Grade A offices are experiencing growing demand within the market.  In fact, we are aware of up to 80,000 sq ft of office requirements in existence, however, the truth is that once the current supply of office stock has been exhausted, there will be virtually no replacement stock available as office development within Belfast city centre has all but ceased.

Furthermore, and extremely pertinent at this moment, should adjustments be made to corporation tax which would drive demand further in our office  sector, it is unlikely that sufficient office accommodation could be provided due to lack of development funding and  timescales involved in bringing forward development sites in terms of securing planning consents and subsequent build-out programmes.  Unless these issues are addressed, any improvement in the corporation tax position within the province will fail to make a significant impact on this sector meaning that valuable inward investment opportunities will be lost to other locations beyond Northern Ireland.  The frustrating fact is that suitable sites are available within the city-centre office core, but it is clear in the current economic environment that there is little likelihood of these being developed in the near future.  Regardless of whether or not there is a positive decision regarding corporation tax, action is required in order to stimulate further office development and to this end, Invest NI and our devolved government could assist with funding provision or similar market stimulus.

Naturally, the lowering of corporation tax would be a major coup for Northern Ireland, certainly as far as the office sector is concerned.  Even without progress on that front, stimulus is crucial in order to ensure that new office accommodation continues to be available on a relatively short lead-in to satisfy both the needs of potential inward investors and to support the growth of indigenous businesses.  Without some form of support, the market will stagnate and inward investment opportunities along with a much-needed boost to our construction sector will naturally divert to other countries and regions where such accommodation can be provided more readily.

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