As we enter a period of increasing market activity, it is timely that the ambitious £300m project to regenerate Belfast's Northside area is starting to gain momentum.
Several recent sales and instructions are setting the scene for the development of a part of the city that will provide significant opportunities for investors, occupiers and developers.
At the heart of the Northside rejuvenation is the new University of Ulster campus. Centred around a landmark building that is presently under construction and which will reach nine storeys when complete, the new campus has played a significant role in the renewed demand which the area has attracted.
So what should we expect from this new ‘University Quarter’ that will dominate the Northside of the city for coming decades? Peppered with various listed buildings and facades, the area is sure to retain its wealth of history, while the juxtaposition of intelligent, contemporary architecture - the likes of which is already on display and in construction with the University library - will surely provide an interesting city space.
Beyond the retained Art Deco facades and shiny new structures, the regeneration of this area will not only enhance the aesthetic of Northside, but development serves a very important purpose too - that of providing a hub for the ever-growing Belfast student community which, until now, has been spread across the city and beyond.
This has an array of benefits for developers, investors and occupiers - with stakeholders such as Belfast City Council and LPS not missing out either - as rising occupancy rates in retail, office and housing seem ready to set an upward trend in the area’s overall economic viability.
You need look no further than Liverpool, Manchester or Sheffield to see the effect that a well planned, managed and effected regeneration of an area, around the beating heart of a vibrant
university campus, can have on an under-utilised city area.
Managing the increasing student population and capitalising on the economic activity it brings is not only socially prudent but, from a fiscal perspective, good business. Blue-chip tenants see the opportunity to be had by securing new build, Grade A space.
It also won’t just be tenants, investors and developers in the Northside of the city that will benefit from the influx to the city centre of the additional 14,000 students and staff. Approximately 15,500 students and staff will study and work in the campus upon completion, ensuring that the spin-off benefits will wash across the city as a whole.
The ever-developing and now well-established Cathedral Quarter is set to reap a range of benefits from its proximity to the regeneration area and its concentration of bars and restaurants will welcome the inevitable increased footfall.
From an overall retail and leisure perspective, many believe that the Northside regeneration, as it develops further with the increasing success of The Cathedral Quarter, may well act as a
catalyst for the dusting down of the Royal Exchange proposal.
Beyond the economic, fiscal and social benefits of Belfast becoming a so-called ‘Learning City’,
regeneration around a strong, student population offers a chance to raise Northern Ireland’s profile internationally as well as within the UK - a benefit of which is incoming international brands.
As the student population already sits equivalent to 15% of the resident city population, expansion of student numbers will provide significant opportunities and effective student housing strategies to complement the needs of the retail, leisure and other facilities intrinsically linked to student popula-tion growth.
Declan Flynn is Managing Director of Belfast-based commercial property agency Lisney, which works on behalf of many of Northern Ireland's most significant inves-tors and developers as well as major retailers and businesses.