Northern Ireland

Belfast city centre office supply 'extremely limited'

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Media captionAgents are forecasting a demand for office space in Belfast of 1.1m sq ft over the next three years, as Julian O'Neill reports

Loans of public money may be made available to property developers to build offices in Belfast city centre, after a report described supply as "extremely limited."

Invest NI commissioned the report after commercial agents warned of a "crisis".

Unless this was addressed, the report said, attempts to attract overseas jobs could be hindered.

The shortage is in grade A offices - new or refurbished buildings, in prime locations, with open plan layouts.

Under a proposal being considered by the Department of Finance, loans for part of the development costs would be made following applications through Invest NI.

The report said "very few" developers have the capital required to do projects.

Low rental returns have had an impact on the viability of schemes.

The report said there is "clear justification for the consideration of public sector intervention... by reducing the financial risk of development."

Any intervention would be short-term and loans, probably only for up to a third of the costs, and would be repaid with interest.

The money would come from a funding pot known as Financial Transactions Capital (FTC), outside Invest NI's budget and the block grant.

But developers would still require other capital, either from banks or their own cash.

Around 250,000 sq ft of grade A space is said to be currently available.

But agents forecast demand of 1.1m sq ft over the next three years.

This pressure could be added to if a reduction in corporation tax creates the jobs bonanza the Northern Ireland Executive hopes for.