Northern Ireland

Report says Nama is selling NI property 'slowly'

Nama is disposing of its vast property portfolio in Northern Ireland more slowly than in any other jurisdiction.

The agency, which took control of toxic loans from Irish banks, holds property worth a nominal £3.35bn in NI - making it the region's biggest landlord.

There had been fears that it would engage in a firesale in NI to raise funds for the Irish government.

However a report by the Republic's comptroller and auditor general said it has sold property worth just 30m euros.

It is a disproportionately small amount: the proceeds account for just 1% of sales to date, while the property held here makes up 4% of Nama's total portfolio.

'Harsh'

The report may go some way towards easing concerns about a fire sale north of the border.

It said that Nama currently estimates it will sell one third of its property in Northern Ireland by 2016.

This compares with plans to sell 40% of everything in the Republic in the same timeframe.

The one place where the agency is planning speedy sales is in Britain where it hopes to have 90% sold by 2015.

Such were the concerns about a possible fire sale that the Stormont executive persuaded the Irish government to create a special Northern Ireland advisory board for Nama to provide oversight of the agency's dealings.

Stormont's Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has also called for a dedicated Northern Ireland seat on the full Nama board.

Some industry observers have credited the advisory panel with a key role in preventing a firesale in Northern Ireland, though harsh economic realities may be the decisive factor.

Nama is fast-tracking property sales in Great Britain simply because it can - the market there is relatively buoyant compared to Ireland.

'Empty fields'

The market in Northern Ireland, however, is very depressed and the agency may not be able to realise sales - regardless of price.

The nature of the Nama portfolio in Northern Ireland is also a factor.

Around £2bn of its £3.35bn portfolio in Northern Ireland is undeveloped land - but its real value is considerably less.

The auditor's report reveals that the actual value of that land on the Nama books is just £223m - almost a tenth of the original value of the loans.

This suggests Nama owns a lot of empty fields across Northern Ireland which may never be developed.

The report notes that Nama will need to offload the final two thirds of its Northern Ireland property holdings between 2016 and 2020.

So, while there is currently no firesale - that may simply be a matter of timing.

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