Northern Ireland

Property firms could get loan boost for Belfast office building from Invest NI

Invest NI headquarters
Image caption A report for Invest NI has warned lack of 'Grade A' accommodation in the city could hinder attempts to attract overseas jobs

Property developers could soon be able to borrow money from Invest NI to kickstart the building of high quality offices in Belfast.

A report for Invest NI has warned lack of 'Grade A' accommodation in the city could hinder attempts to attract overseas jobs.

Office development has slowed there since the 2008 property market crash.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said Invest NI would explore whether it can advance loans.

This would be as "a short-term intervention".

She said that this was likely to be mezzanine or equity finance made on commercial terms.

Invest NI will seek expressions of interest from developers from 1 May to 31 August.

Ms Foster said: "The availability of suitable office accommodation is an important part of Northern Ireland's investment proposition.

"The report has shown that demand for Grade A office accommodation has remained relatively steady over the past three years but, with limited new development taking place, the supply has fallen.

"The lack of development may be due to constraints on bank lending to fund Grade A office space developments."

The report, produced by consultants RSM McClure Watters, said "very few" developers have the capital required to build major projects.

'Viability'

Low rental returns have also had an impact on the viability of schemes and their ability to attract bank funding.

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 that the Northern Ireland Executive hopes for.

Any Invest NI loans would also be available for Grade A schemes outside Belfast.

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