The changing face of our historic ports
I have written before in the pages of Sea Breezes about the changing face of many of Britain’s ports, with the Boards and management teams of many of our most historic harbours now focusing almost as much, if not more, on real estate development as shipping activities.
I was, therefore, reading with interest about the latest “City Quays” development at the port of Belfast in Northern Ireland, a £250m development scheme which is regenerating 20 acres of ex-shipping land near the city centre. One of the world’s leading hotel chains, AC Hotels by Marriott, is shortly to open a new £25m hotel, and ITV Broadcasting has announced the relocation of its Ulster Television subsidiary (UTV) to the waterfront as well.
The UTV relocation follows a modern trend of creating “media quarters” in harbour environments, another prominent example being the relocation of much of the BBC’s activities to Media City at Salford Quays in Manchester - at the eastern end of the famous Manchester Ship Canal. The recent announcements in Belfast are the latest episodes in the continuing evolution of the port area over the last few decades and follow the creation of the “Titanic Quarter” which includes the Titanic museum - now one of the top tourist attractions in the city.
Thankfully, and from a more traditional viewpoint, the port is continuing to thrive in a shipping sense too. The ferry company Stena Line - which has invested millions in port infrastructure and new tonnage on their Northern Ireland routes in recent years - continue to report very positive results. In the last five years, traffic on its Belfast routes has increased dramatically, with freight up by 19%, cars up by 15% and passenger numbers by 13%.
Belfast is a port very close to my heart having been involved in previous ferry operations there, most notably the SeaCat fast ferry service which re-established passenger services at the port back in 1992. The SeaCat berthed at Donegall Quay, as far up the harbour and into the reaches of the River Lagan as you could go and which was a true gateway to the centre of a city which has seen its turbulent times over the years but which is a tremendously fascinating and friendly place to visit.
It is pleasing to note the continued growth and evolution of Belfast and other ports, with success delivered from a continued focus on maritime activities combined with an entrepreneurial approach to the regeneration of waterfront space for residential, hotel and other business purposes. And, however different (and perhaps quieter) the ports seem from the days when I was a seafarer, the commercial success of these property developments are to be celebrated in bringing new life to the waterfronts of our great cities.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR