Judith Allen, real estate partner at law firm TLT, on her journey to MIPIM in Cannes to show off the best of Belfast from Game of Thrones to the city’s commercial property
Belfast is best for business and simply as a place to be - that is the big message that a 50-strong city delegation is taking to the world’s foremost international property event, MIPIM.
The delegation brings together representatives from the City Council and Belfast businesses, including my law firm, TLT.
We’ll also be taking with us the real iron throne used in Game of Thrones to make a strong point about Belfast. The phenomenally successful American television series has its production headquarters in Belfast. And its success is a fitting example of the ambition, creative talent, energy, and global appeal of Belfast today.
But we are taking much more as a city to the three-day property showcase in Cannes, France. The job of the Belfast delegation that I am heading to MIPIM with is to highlight the corporate advantages of investing in the city. Importantly, this includes a City Council enthusiastic for public-private partnerships to drive development.
This year’s event will build on the huge interest at MIPIM last year. The Belfast Suite will feature state-of-the art technology able to bring investment opportunities to life, a presentation stage with more than 20 scheduled events, and a hospitality area for people to meet and discuss the opportunities available.
Indeed, there is certainly plenty to talk about, including the many financial incentives available to attract businesses to a reinvigorated Belfast and its buoyant property market.
As a law firm with a growing real estate team, we have been able to support some of that transformation with our work in areas like banking, finance and real estate.
From a personal perspective, I have built my professional career here in Northern Ireland, including working for Invest NI — the Government agency offering financial support for areas like job creation, training and innovation.
As part of my new role leading TLT’s real estate offering in Northern Ireland, I’ll work hard to keep the investment coming to our amazing city — and MIPIM is part of that.
Indeed, you can feel the buzz in the city at the moment and we need to make the most of this and the advantages we have, such as a rapidly growing technology sector attracting the likes of IBM and Intel, and one of the youngest, most well-educated populations in Europe.
But it isn’t just about talent and cheaper operational costs — there is a drive to Belfast that you get a sense of only when you live here.
Interest in Belfast is clearly already strong and we are seeing a great deal of growth and pent-up demand for more options to develop further, particularly office space.
The City Council is supporting that across the board and is determined to help business succeed — and as part of that, to provide the property opportunities needed, both commercial and residential.
For example, a recent rating revaluation has brought down a lot of rates for city centre sites. Of course, helping to underpin property developments are the city’s three universities, which are confident and expanding as they spur a building boom to support the 100,000 students they attract between them.
There are also wider benefits from that top flight higher education that filter through to the economy: talent trained and nurtured in the city often stays, attracted to the high level career opportunities. Belfast, for example, is now at the forefront of research in key areas, including cognitive robotics, renewable technologies and cancer treatment.
It is not hard to see why. The universities work closely with business, which is helping to produce a high quality work force from amongst the 4,000 people graduating annually with a business related degree.
New hotels are on the way, too, both in response to rising visitor numbers but also to an expectation of more to come.
But as the Belfast economy expands, there will be increasing pressure for more office accommodation. The City Council acknowledges this challenge and has developed a support package to encourage development.
Helpfully, Belfast City Council and business are in lock-step with each other, with a determination to build on the opportunities offered by economics and geography, including some of the most competitive commercial property rental rates in the UK.
The immediate political future may seem lost in the fog of Brexit. But close proximity to the Republic of Ireland as the only part of the UK to share a common border with an EU country will offer opportunities in a post-Brexit world.
Belfast will be uniquely placed to help firms straddle both the EU and the UK. The already particularly strong links with the USA will only strengthen.
The practical advantages of Belfast’s geography include being strategically placed between global markets, just six hours from New York, an hour from London and a short drive to Dublin.
No wonder Belfast is attracting investment in areas like financial technology, and attracting major consultancy firms such as Deloitte and PwC to establish large workforces in the city.
In a city where more than two-thirds of young people go on to further education, it is perhaps also no surprise that Belfast’s knowledge economy is the second fastest growing in the UK.
Growth has been so rapid that the city is already half way towards creating 80,000 high salaried jobs by 2030.
In some respects, Belfast tells its own story best. Belfast International Airport, for example, was at the start of 2017 ranked the fifth busiest in the UK for domestic passenger traffic, behind only Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The city also boasts the highest availability of superfast broadband in the UK and a 100 GB per second telecoms link between Northern Ireland, Europe and America. In short, there has never been a better time to invest in Belfast, a fresh, dynamic and open city surrounded by glorious countryside and already building a powerful business base. The delegation heading to France will make sure all of this is on display at MIPIM — alongside of course, the chance to see the iron throne.
Judith and the Belfast City Council delegation will be based in the Belfast Suite, on the Croisette, zone C19, opposite The Majestic Hotel and adjacent to the main MIPIM entrance point.
This article first appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday February 28 2017.