29/06/2006

Future of Belfast Port in jeopardy

The Port of Belfast could be broken up and stripped of its assets, a report published today has revealed.

The news emerged after the publication of a government review of the port's policy, which could pave the way for selling off key parts of the business to private buyers.

The document has brought fears that the review will interfere with the £140 million investment programme, which includes the development of the Titanic Quarter project.

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Pat McCarthy has expressed his concern over the government's report, saying that the port was the "lifeblood" of Northern Ireland.

He said: "I am very concerned that the government may be attempting to asset strip Belfast's single most important piece of economic infrastructure and prepare the way for its sale to private interests," and added that the sale would be nothing less than a sale of the city's 'family silver.'

"The Port of Belfast is part and parcel of what Belfast is and must remain within public ownership."

Commercial Director for the Port of Belfast, Joe O'Neill today said that government document's emphasis of the "potential break-up of the port's estate and the stripping of assets for a quick sale," came as a surprise, however he added that he was keen to consult with all stakeholders who have an interest in the future of Belfast Port on how they can continue to contribute to the Northern Ireland economy.

Last year, Belfast Harbour Commissioners announced a huge investment in the development of Belfast port, however at the time there were concerns over the port's uncertainty over its regulatory status, which thought may hamper its ability to develop to its full potential.

The investment, due to be developed over a five-year period, included a new terminal and updating the security.

Belfast port handles just under 70% of all Northern Ireland's and 25% of Ireland's seaborne trade.

In 2005, the port handled 17 million tonnes of goods, including 95% of Northern Ireland's fuel products, with over 1.2 million passengers passing through the port, making it the busiest in Northern Ireland.

The consultation period is expected to last until September 22.

(EF/SP)

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