Har­bour faces ‘bor­der is­sues’ but can tackle con­cerns over UK leav­ing EU

Port boss ad­mits ma­jor firms in talks for fu­ture City Quays project

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY JOHN MULGREW

BELFAST Har­bour is in talks with ma­jor busi­nesses about tak­ing en­tire build­ings in its fu­ture City Quays of­fice projects as it’s set to tackle “bor­der dif­fi­cul­ties” with Brexit loom­ing, its out­go­ing boss has said.

In an in­ter­view with the Belfast Tele­graph, Har­bour chief ex­ec­u­tive Roy Adair (60), who now over­sees a port and de­vel­op­ment business worth £400m, says that while “there could be bor­der dif­fi­cul­ties” with Brexit, it’s ready to cope with the com­plex­i­ties of leav­ing the EU.

But he said, while “it’s doable”, the im­pact of mul­ti­ple trans­ac­tions on goods ar­riv­ing could in­crease time at the port.

And he’s press­ing on with the City Quays scheme, with the 17-storey third build­ing to be­gin next year, fol­lowed by a fourth, and two oth­ers, which could be built for one ma­jor ten­ant look­ing to find a new home.

Mr Adair is step­ping down from his top role next year after 12 years at the helm.

And he said that a court bat­tle with Ti­tanic Quar­ter, which was set­tled last year, “has been cathar­tic” and there has never been any “bad blood” be­tween the Har­bour and the de­vel­op­ers across the wa­ter.

“In the Brexit con­text, the macro per­spec­tive is very im­por­tant... I think what is with­out any shadow of a doubt is it does de­pend on how the ball lands, and that’s your un­cer­tainty prin­ci­ple,” he said.

“It al­most cer­tainly in most states will gen­er­ate win­ners and losers.”

The Har­bour deals with mil­lions of tonnes of freight and pas­sen­ger traf­fic each year.

“If you take the vol­ume of flow as mea­sured in pound notes, be­tween east and west, ver­sus north and south, in the British Isles, the east/west flows are much im­por­tant,” Mr Adair said.

“You don’t want to lose any­thing... there could be bor­der dif­fi­cul­ties. A lot of that is about how much prepa­ra­tion time. If it was to­mor­row, peo­ple aren’t ready. Is it pos­si­ble to be­come ready to un­der­take those trans­ac­tion? Yes it is.

“Is there the req­ui­si­tion knowl­edge to han­dle those trans­ac­tions? Yes there is.”

Mr Adair said, with goods al­ready com­ing from out­side the EU, the port, and oth­ers, are well-versed in deal­ing with cus­toms is­sues.

“Stuff comes in a con­tainer. If it’s a big boat full of grain, that’s a big ho­mo­ge­neous cargo, and a sin­gle cus­toms trans­ac­tion,” he said. “But if you have a con­tainer, how many cus­toms trans­ac­tions are con­tained within, and does the nec­es­sary man­i­fest in­for­ma­tion ex­ist? It’s all doable, not for free, it will cost a bit more money.”

In his 12 years at the helm, he’s helped ex­pand and grow the Har­bour into a ma­jor North­ern Ire­land de­vel­oper.

And in that time, the Har­bour’s profits have in­creased from around £13m to around £33m, while the bal­ance sheet value has in­creased from around £180m to over £400m.

The Har­bour is also set to take a fresh look at the ‘mas­ter­plan’ for its City Quays of­fice de­vel­op­ment.

“We have a fairly big mas­ter­plan, which is six or seven years old,” Mr Adair said. “Next year, we are very keen to re­fresh that... and go back, and say, we have made good progress, we are into the first phase of this, it’s do­ing ex­traor­di­nar­ily well, does that mean ev­ery­thing else we thought was right, or do we need to re­view that? We are about to start kick­ing the tyres on the orig­i­nal mas­ter­plan.”

Roy Adair has helped over­see a tidal wave of change across Belfast Har­bour in the last decade, in­clud­ing al­most tripling profits to £33m and spend­ing £120m on the am­bi­tious City Quays of­fice project.

The 60-year-old north Belfast man also says the Har­bour is braced for Brexit but that there “could be bor­der dif­fi­cul­ties”.

And he’s press­ing on with the City Quays scheme, with con­struc­tion of the 17-storey third build­ing to be­gin next year, fol­lowed by a fourth, along with a fifth and sixth, which could be built for one ma­jor ten­ant look­ing to find a new home.

Roy is step­ping down from his top role next year, after 12 years at the helm.

And he says that a court bat­tle with Ti­tanic Quar­ter, which was set­tled last year, “has been cathar­tic” and there has never been any “bad blood” be­tween the Har­bour and the de­vel­op­ers across the wa­ter.

Roy came on board the Har­bour as it was ex­am­in­ing its own po­lice ser­vice, which dates back to 1847.

He took up of­fice in Jan­uary 2006 and has since helped ex­pand and grow the Har­bour into a ma­jor North­ern Ire­land de­vel­oper.

“Most ports in the British Isles are suc­cess­ful fi­nan­cially. You don’t have to go back that long, but they weren’t al­ways that suc­cess­ful. ... I in­her­ited what was a very ro­bust, healthy, or­gan­i­sa­tion. We are stand­ing on the shoul­ders of giants, and that team did one hell of a job... maybe a harder job than we had.

“I have been re­ally lucky, as in my time it has been the same team. There were some who were here be­fore me, and a few more we added very quickly.

“At that point, when I came in, we were clear that job one is to be sure the port func­tions seam­lessly.

“If some­thing goes wrong in this port, North­ern Ire­land will know about it al­most in­stan­ta­neously.

“One ex­am­ple, if you go to (a su­per­mar­ket) and there are no sand­wiches, that is usu­ally be­cause they come from Scot­land.

“If the ferry doesn’t get in, there are no sand­wiches. If the port gets it wrong, the econ­omy will see it in an in­stant.”

When he joined, the am­bi­tious City Quays scheme “wasn’t even a dream”, Roy says.

But then around seven years ago, the Har­bour moved into prop­erty de­vel­op­ment. Since then, it’s built City Quays 1 and 2, with a new ho­tel on the way, and progress on a 17-storey of­fice build­ing and car park.

“All of that suc­cess took us to ask, where are you go­ing to go next?” Roy says. “... the chal­lenge is, what are we go­ing to do with it (land not be­ing used)?

“Prop­erty de­vel­op­ment be­came a very strong op­tion... we saw the need from an econ­omy and so­ci­etal point of view.

“We have a fairly big mas­ter­plan, which is six or seven years old. Next year, we are very keen to re­fresh that... and go back, and say, we have made good progress, we are into the first phase of this, it’s do­ing ex­traor­di­nar­ily well, does that mean ev­ery­thing else we thought was right, or do we need to re­view that? We are about to start kick­ing the tyres on the orig­i­nal mas­ter­plan.”

He’s hope­ful the largest build­ing, the 17-storey City Quays 3, will break ground early next year and open for oc­cu­pa­tion by 2020.

Once that is com­pleted, the Har­bour will have in­vested £120m in the project to date.

And he said there re­mains the high lev­els of de­mand for these spec­u­la­tive build of­fices, which make it eas­ier for In­vest NI to at­tract in­vestors into North­ern Ire­land.

“There is still a very strong In­vest NI pipe­line com­ing through.”

In num­bers, the Har­bour’s turnover is around £60m a year, and in Roy’s time profits have in­creased from around £13m to around £33m.

More than 23 mil­lion tonnes passed through the Har­bour in 2016. And the bal­ance sheet value has in­creased from around £180m to above £400m.

It em­ploys 140 staff di­rectly, and is about to hire a fur­ther 100 for the new AC by Mar­riott ho­tel.

In­di­rectly, the Har­bour hosts a work­force of up to 25,000 work­ers.

Belfast Har­bour has also spent £20m on a new film stu­dio.

The City Quays 4 of­fice block is now at the de­sign phase, while the Har­bour is in ne­go­ti­a­tions about se­cur­ing one sin­gle ten­ant for City Quays 5 and 6.

“We might be able to pur­pose-build City Quays 5 and 6 for a sin­gle cus­tomer,” he says.

“We are hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions... City Quays 3 is in the ground next year. We are work­ing on the de­sign in City Quays 4 to get it into plan­ning, and we are hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions which may lead us to de­sign and build 5 and 6.

“... we are in the mar­ket all the time, and are hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple. It’s some­one who is look­ing to re-home.”

City Quays 2 will al­ready play

We have a fairly big mas­ter­plan that’s seven years old ... next year we are keen to re­fresh that

host to three firms, in­clud­ing UTV and Tul­lett Pre­bon, as pre­vi­ously re­vealed by the Belfast Tele­graph.

Turn­ing to the is­sue of Brexit, Roy says that while the Har­bour is pre­pared for what lies around the cor­ner, com­plex­i­ties and po­ten­tial dif­fi­cul­ties still re­main.

“In the Brexit con­text, the macro per­spec­tive is very im­por­tant... I think what is with­out any shadow of a doubt is it does de­pend on how the ball lands, and that’s your un­cer­tainty prin­ci­ple.

“It al­most cer­tainly in most states will gen­er­ate win­ners and losers.

“If you take the vol­ume of flow as mea­sured in pound notes, be­tween east and west ver­sus north and south, in the British Isles, the east/west flows are im­por­tant.

“You don’t want to lose any­thing... there could be bor­der dif­fi­cul­ties.

“A lot of that is about how much prepa­ra­tion time (there is). If it was to­mor­row, peo­ple aren’t ready. Is it pos­si­ble to be­come ready to un­der­take those trans- ac­tions? Yes, it is. Is there the req­ui­si­tion knowl­edge to han­dle those trans­ac­tions? Yes, there is.” He says with goods al­ready com­ing from out­side the EU, the port, and oth­ers, are well-versed in deal­ing with cus­toms is­sues. “If it’s a big boat full of grain, that’s a big ho­mo­ge­neous cargo and a sin­gle cus­toms trans­ac­tion. “But if you have a con­tainer, how many cus­toms trans­ac­tions are con­tained within, and does the nec­es­sary man­i­fest in­for­ma­tion ex­ist? “It’s all doable — not for free, it will cost a bit more money.” He says when peo­ple are talk­ing about cus­toms costs in­creas­ing, there’s ex­ag­ger­a­tion. “The big­ger is­sue is time. And pos­si­bly the big­ger is­sue will be­come non-tar­iff bar­ri­ers.” Roy grew up on the Shankill Road in Belfast, where he lived with mum, Jane, and fa­ther, James, who was a “born again en­tre­pre­neur” and ran a large taxi firm.

The for­mer Belfast Boys’ Model school pupil be­gan his stud­ies in en­gi­neer­ing early on.

He won a schol­ar­ship, and was taken on by cig­a­rette firm Roth­mans which paid for him to study at Queen’s Uni­ver­sity, Belfast and he worked in a num­ber of roles for the com­pany over the years.

Later, he was head-hunted and di­verted from his en­gi­neer­ing roles to help set up the North­ern Ire­land Qual­ity Cen­tre, now the Cen­tre for Com­pet­i­tive­ness.

Roy then took on cir­cuit-board firm, Ir­lan­dus Cir­cuits, and helped turn it around. But the com­pany was hit by in­creas­ingly cheap prod­ucts from China.

“We made all the teleme­try cir­cuits for the Jor­dan For­mula One cars,” he re­calls.

Roy later took up a post with the Har­bour for six months, and ended up stay­ing for 12 years.

Ear­lier this year, he re­vealed he was step­ping down from the role, with a new suc­ces­sor tak­ing over next year.

“I hit the big 60. My de­ci­sion was made maybe two or three years ago,” he ex­plains.

“I must be chal­lenged... I have to find things that keep me in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lated. My opinion is, if I let the clock run to 65, then the chances of me be­ing able to keep on be­ing ac­tive, in or­gan­i­sa­tional life, is go­ing to be­come more dif­fi­cult.”

And Roy says he’s “de­lighted” that one of the ex­ist­ing team will be­come his re­place­ment. Joe O’neill, who is cur­rently com­mer­cial di­rec­tor, will take over from Roy when he re­tires in the spring.

Last year, the Har­bour and Ti­tanic Quar­ter were en­gaged in a now-set­tled le­gal fight over the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of its ‘mas­ter agree­ment’.

“The ten­sion came with, what did that agree­ment re­ally mean?” Roy says.

“The re­ces­sion hurt big time, all the val­ues. Re­ally, that has been part of it.

“We kind of lanced that boil by mov­ing through the court process. The process has been cathar­tic.

“That has al­lowed us to re­set the re­la­tion­ship.”

The Har­bour is now in­volved in a joint of­fice project called Olympic House, along­side Ti­tanic Quar­ter.

“I wouldn’t say it’s let by­gones be by­gones, be­cause, through all of this, there was never a per­sonal dif­fi­culty.

“I could still sit down and have a glass of wine with Pat (Do­herty, of Ti­tanic Quar­ter)... there has never, ever been bad blood.”

Roy has a range of other roles out­side his cur­rent job as Har­bour chief.

That in­cludes deputy chair­man of the UK Ma­jor Ports Group, be­ing a board mem­ber of the Ul­ster Uni­ver­sity Eco­nomic Pol­icy Cen­tre and the Prince’s Trust Coun­cil.

Roy is mar­ried to Joan, a re­tired teacher, and they have three chil­dren: the el­dest, Christo­pher, works as a mort­gage ad­viser, Jill, an ac­coun­tant for the civil ser­vice, and Kerry, who has a se­nior role at Citibank.

And his four grand­chil­dren also keep him busy.

“We are the ul­ti­mate def­i­ni­tion of a close fam­ily”, he says.

Golf also keeps Roy busy — he plays at Fortwilliam Golf Club in north Belfast — and he’s also a keen gui­tar player and en­joys cook­ing.

“Sun­day for me is usu­ally golf, and I nor­mally make a big fam­ily tea.

“We al­ways eat to­gether on a Sun­day,” he ex­plains.

“I’d also like to learn Por­tuguese as I own a place in Por­tu­gal..

“I’d like to get back to the stan­dard of pro­fi­ciency I had at the gui­tar when I was young.”

Roy is also in­ter­ested in writ­ing a mo­bile phone app, go­ing back to his in­ter­est in com­puter pro­gram­ming.

I would like to learn Por­tuguese ... and get back to a good stan­dard of pro­fi­ciency on gui­tar

Roy Adair with wife Joan

Roy Adair re­ceives his CBE from the Queen at Buck­ing­ham Palace and (right) City Quays 2 in Belfast. Far right, Roy en­joy­ing a round of golf

Roy Adair at work in his Belfast Har­bour of­fices

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