Belfast Harbour Enhances Contribution to NI with Record £65m Investment in Major Capital Projects in 2023

Belfast Harbour today reported strong financial results for 2023, with annual turnover and operating profits both rising despite a challenging global trading environment. Expenditure on major capital projects also reached record levels, with an investment of £65 million.

As a Trust Port, Belfast Harbour is funded solely by the profits it makes and not from public funds. It invests all post-tax profits in improving the Port and wider Estate for the benefit of customers, tenants and the wider Region.

Ahead of its Annual Stakeholder Meeting (of 02 July 2024), Belfast Harbour reported turnover of £82.9m for 2023, up 7% on its figures for 2022, while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) were up 4% on the previous year to £46.3m. Underlying profit before tax of £36.7m was also up 7% from 2022.

In 2023, the strong financial results supported delivery of a record £65m investment in major capital and infrastructure projects at the Port and Harbour Estate, which will add significant economic and social value to the region. These projects include a state-of-the-art temperature-controlled warehousing facility, the expansion of Belfast Harbour’s film studio offering and progressing much-needed social and affordable housing.

This expenditure was part of a decade of transformational projects, totalling £374m.

While there was ongoing uncertainty in the global economy during the year, port trade remained steady, with total tonnage through Belfast Harbour reported at 23.9m tonnes, down just 2% on the previous year, in line with its expectations, despite the high inflationary environment.

However, it was another record year for Roll-on Roll-off freight traffic, delivered by Belfast Harbour’s partner Stena Line. This rose 4% to 610,000 freight units during the year – surpassing the previous record performance from 2022 – while ferry passenger numbers remained steady at 1.7 million.

Cruise ships continued to provide a boost to the local economy, with Belfast Harbour welcoming a record 158 calls during 2023, as several international companies which had never previously called to Belfast added the city to their itineraries. In total, 57 ships from 32 cruise lines brought 320,000 passengers and crew to the city and region. Cruise Tourism delivers an annual direct spend of c.£25 million to the local economy.

The year also saw major developments within the Harbour Estate. Construction continued on a new £9m temperature-controlled logistics warehousing facility located on West Bank Road. The 50,000 square foot facility, constructed to the highest standards of sustainability, is the first BREEAM ‘Excellent’ warehouse in NI, and will be occupied by leading logistics provider Manfreight Ltd.

During the year a series of Blue-Chip tenants also moved into the new sustainable, Grade-A office building ‘City Quays 3’; planning permission was granted for the ‘City Quays 4’ build-to-rent residential scheme and an associated social housing development at Pilot Street (69 social and affordable homes). Work also commenced on phase one of City Quays Gardens, a £3 million project to create an inclusive new green space for the city, which will be completed later this year.

Plans to make the Harbour Estate a great place to live and work were also further advanced with the start of construction on Loft Lines, a new residential neighbourhood which Belfast Harbour is delivering in partnership with Watkin Jones, Lacuna Developments and Titanic Quarter Ltd.

Expansion work also commenced at Belfast Harbour Studios to increase the overall footprint of the complex to over 100,000 square feet of sound stages, the industry benchmark for attracting the largest film and television productions from major studios.

Belfast Harbour continued to engage closely with local communities and provided funding of £310k to community and charitable programmes. This included £80,000 of support to grassroots organisations and charities through the Belfast Harbour Community Awards Fund, a sum that will rise to £100,000 in 2024.

Dr Theresa Donaldson, Chair of Belfast Harbour, said:
“I am confident that we can reflect on 2023 as a year in which this organisation strongly evidenced its dedication to the economy and wider society. Our landmark capital investment of £65 million demonstrates our ethos as a Trust Port. We strive to make this organisation the success it is, and we share that success, investing our profits in projects and partnerships that enable economic growth and create tangible social value.

“Looking ahead, we are determined to accelerate our contribution to the economy and local communities by building on our achievements and widening the positive impact we have on those who live, work and visit within Belfast Harbour, the City, and the wider Region.

Joe O’Neill, Chief Executive Officer of Belfast Harbour, said:
“Despite a challenging economic backdrop, Belfast Harbour delivered another solid financial performance in 2023. This reflected the diversity of the business, the quality of our customers’ activities and the hard work of the Belfast Harbour team.

“We delivered on our promises by maintaining an essential service to everyone in the Region, through the safe, efficient and effective operation of the Port. We completed the 2023 aspects of our extensive range of investment projects on time and we made a real difference to our neighbours through community partnerships and funding.

“Crucially, we gained momentum in terms of our diversification into marine renewable technologies, our property portfolio expansion, our drive to become one of the safest ports in the world and our role as a leader in ESG. These will continue to be key areas of focus for us in the future.”