Skip to main content

Belfast's Commercial Property Renaissance: Unveiling a New Chapter of Economic Synergy and Innovation

Published on 20 March 2024

Author: Jago Bret - Regional Managing Director for Avison Young, Belfast

Amidst a backdrop of political stability and economic innovation, Northern Ireland, with Belfast at its epicentre, is embarking on a transformation within its commercial property sector.  

The strategic reinstatement of the Northern Ireland Executive, coupled with the Windsor Framework agreement, represents a new dawn for Belfast and unique dual market access to both Great Britain and the European Union. As the Avison Young team attended MIPIM 2024, we were thrilled to host a panel event "Investing in the Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor," chaired by Fergal Burke, MD of our Dublin office. This discussion focused on the profound economic synergy and collaborative potential between Belfast and Dublin, highlighting the current sense of regional cooperation and shared prosperity. 

Dual market access as a catalyst 

The renaissance of Belfast's commercial landscape over the last five to ten years has seen the city experience a remarkable trajectory of growth, fuelled by strategic investments such as the ambitious £1 billion Belfast Region City Deal and transformative projects like Belfast Grand Central and Weavers Cross. These initiatives are not only set to rejuvenate Belfast’s urban skyline, but are also representative of the city's bold aspirations for economic and infrastructural renewal. The Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor is a key cornerstone of this revival, with its cross-jurisdictional collaboration able to combine the strengths of two key economic cities and open captivating possibilities for global trade and investment. 

One of the most compelling aspects of the corridor is its unique positioning, with a concentration of businesses thriving along a compact 100-mile stretch. This spatial dynamism is indicative of the growing interest brought by the advantages of dual market access. The shortly to be completed Belfast Grand Central Station, which will generate 20 million passenger journeys per year, will enhance connectivity between the two cities - not just facilitating commuter convenience - but also embedding Belfast more firmly within the regional and international economic fabric. 

Resurgence and transformation across the board  

Belfast is also witnessing the emergence of a vibrant city centre living scene, presenting a substantial opportunity against the backdrop of more mature markets in similarly sized UK cities. This nascent development is supported by collaborative efforts across the public, private, and third sectors. Waterfront developments are also driving transformative change - particularly around the Titanic Quarter/City Quays area of the city and River Lagan. These developments are not just about creating spaces, but are about placemaking, offering unique opportunities for investment and development. We view these waterfront projects as central to Belfast's regeneration strategy, harnessing the well-documented developmental potential of water as a catalyst for investment and progress.  

Investors also find themselves drawn by Northern Ireland’s enviable education system and the resultant pool of highly educated talent. The transformation of the city's student accommodation landscape, spearheaded by private sector investments, has played a pivotal role in this regard, with the relocation of Ulster University's campus, bringing with it around 18,000 students to the city centre enhancing footfall, the nighttime economy, and overall vibrancy of Belfast. This vibrancy is expected to attract more investments like the £150 million investment by Legal & General in the Lacuna Developments and Titanic Quarter's Loft Lines project.  

As well as significant residential property growth - Belfast's commercial property market, particularly its office space sector, stands at a pivotal crossroads. Whilst there has been a flight to quality, with demand continuing to come from burgeoning sectors such as FinTech, cybersecurity and RegTech in-line with other major UK cities office markets and where there is not a major oversupply, the pipeline of secondary ‘Grey’ space is increasing leading to the need to consider alternative uses and re-purposing for some of these assets. 

Somewhat unstoppable, Belfast's hospitality sector is also playing its part, with hotels and leisure establishments witnessing continued demand, with 2023 hotel occupancy in Belfast increasing by 5% to 78% overall - reflecting the city's ascending trajectory as a premier tourist destination. This growth is bolstered by Belfast’s vibrant and bustling city centre with its excellent bars, restaurants and music scene, as well as for the golf courses and increased cruise activity, marking a compelling opportunity for the hospitality sector to continue to invest.  

On course for shared prosperity  

As Belfast strides forward in this era of transformation, the evolving relationship between Belfast and Dublin shows that these two markets that once operated very individually, through shared growth aspirations, are bringing together two powerful, yet unique markets to benefit the whole economy. The insights and conversations sparked at MIPIM 2024, especially through the panel discussion on the Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor, show a path of successful collaboration going forward. It would appear that the rising tide is lifting all boats, with a sense of partnership that promises to elevate the economic fortunes of these two iconic cities.