‘Huge potential’ for Belfast real estate market, lawyer tells local leaders

William McCulla, Invest NI; Gareth Planck, Eversheds Sutherland; Stephen Cahoon, Cromwell Property Group; Suzanne Wylie, Belfast City Council; and Douglas Munro, Legal & General
Pictured: William McCulla, Invest NI (at back); Gareth Planck (front), Eversheds Sutherland; Stephen Cahoon, Cromwell Property Group; Suzanne Wylie, Belfast City Council; and Douglas Munro, Legal & General

There is “huge potential” for the real estate market in Belfast in spite of continuing political uncertainty, real estate lawyer Gareth Planck has said.

Mr Planck, a partner at Eversheds Sutherland, addressed 100 leaders from the real estate, property development, finance and business community at an event hosted by the global law firm at the Merchant Hotel.

He participated in a panel discussion alongside Suzanne Wylie, chief executive of Belfast City Council; Douglas Munro, head of structuring and solutions at Legal & General; Stephen Cahoon, European head of asset management at Cromwell Property Group; and William McCulla, director of corporate finance and property solutions at Invest NI.

Perspectives from Belfast, Dublin and London were represented on the panel, moderated by former UTV business editor Jamie Delargy, with all stating that Belfast has made significant advancements in recent years and that further lessons can be learned from other cities in the UK and Ireland.

Other topics which were discussed included the council’s Belfast Agenda, recent reports of Northern Ireland entering ‘mild recession’ and the impact of climate change on the sector.

Commenting on the event, Mr Planck said: “The optimism for the local real estate market in the room was clear and you only have to look at the recent planning approval which was granted for the £500 million Tribeca development to see why.

“The presence of leading figures from London and Dublin is clearly a sign that we are on the right track and it is important that collaboration takes place. By looking to other successful European cities such as Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam which are ranked in the top ten cities for real estate prospects in 2020, there are many positive aspects which can be adapted to advance the market in Northern Ireland.

“After a resilient few years and despite a range of challenges, not least Brexit, the market is finally stabilising. The opportunity now exists to accelerate investment and regeneration in Belfast and Northern Ireland and this needs to be capitalised on.

“Indeed, the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this year and subsequent comments from Ministers on driving the economy forward are encouraging and hopefully will result in a range of important projects being brought forward. Northern Ireland has already been named the world’s number one destination for FinTech development investment projects and the decision by Microsoft to establish a cyber-security centre in Belfast is an example of the huge potential.

“Also, just this week, work has commenced on Belfast’s largest office development with 11 stories of Grade A office space that could house up to 2,000 jobs. Another growth area is the increasing demand for warehouse space created by the growing shift towards e-commerce. We have the active requirements and we’re finally starting to see the investors seize upon this. It really is an exciting time.

“However, with the Brexit transition period coming to an end later this year, political uncertainty remains. Indeed, recent comments from UK Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove that there will be checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland are worrying and will have implications here, not least for those in the retail sector.”

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