Representatives from Heathrow Airport have completed their assessment of the six Northern Ireland sites in the running to be key partners in the expansion of Heathrow.
The sites - including one in Ballymena and two in Antrim - are on a long-list of 65 across the UK to become Heathrow Logistic Hubs - offsite construction centres where parts can be pre-assembled before being transported to the London airport for construction.
As well as visiting the potential sites, the Heathrow delegation also met with some of the major construction and manufacturers in Northern Ireland to find out more about their businesses and to explain how the hubs will fit into the airport’s expansion plans.
The delegation was also met by key local politicians and MPs.
The representatives organised a Summit with the NI Chamber of Commerce to engage potential SMEs suppliers and to provide insights on how they could fit into the project through meet-the-buyer events.
It’s estimated that the hubs – designed to ensure the Heathrow expansion delivers for the whole of the UK – could deliver an economic boost of £5 billion and create 5,000 jobs in Northern Ireland.
This latest visit to Shackleton Barracks, owned by MJM Marine, follows the assessment of sites at Michelin in Ballymena, Belfast International Airport in Antrim and Global Point Business Park in Newtownabbey.
The delegation also visited the Silverwood Business Park in Craigavon and the North Foreshore in Belfast.
Having carried out the site visits, Heathrow aims to open a pre-qualification questionnaire process to the successful bidders later in the year.
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is seeking to ensure that the Heathrow Airport Expansion Team get a complete understanding of the potential that Northern Ireland Plc can offer should it secure one of the four proposed hubs.
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Lindsay Millar, said: “Being part of the Heathrow expansion would be a big boost for the manufacturing and construction sectors here, and for the wider economy.
“We have the capability and the capacity to play a big part in this project and have shown the Heathrow delegation that we are ready and willing to work with them.”
Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Councillor Paul Michael, said: “We are delighted to have two sites shortlisted in the bid to secure one of the four Heathrow Logistics Hubs. This initiative represents a unique opportunity to help to deliver an efficient and affordable expansion of Heathrow, whilst leaving behind a lasting economic legacy for Northern Ireland.
“Our offer is built upon the excellent transport network that connects us with Heathrow by road, rail, sea and air and the outstanding supply chain of local companies that can support the expansion.”
Anne Donaghy, Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, said: “We have left the Heathrow delegation in no doubt as to the huge benefit which we could bring to the proposed airport expansion. Our manufacturing capabilities are world class and we have the know-how, the talent and the track record to go beyond their expectations of a strategic partner when it comes to delivery.
“For us, and for the Northern Ireland economy, being chosen as a Heathrow Logistics Hub would be a game changer and bring a welcome boost in terms of economic benefits and jobs.”
The visit comes just after Cabinet ministers gave their backing to the proposed new runway at Heathrow and ahead of an expected Parliamentary vote shortly.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the decision was being taken in the national interest and would benefit the whole of the UK - with 15% of new landing slots at the airport “facilitating” regional connectivity.
Lord Deighton, Chairman at Heathrow Airport said: “Heathrow expansion is a once in a generation opportunity to transform the UK construction industry, build for the future and deliver a lasting skills legacy for future generations. All of this comes at a pivotal time for our country, as it prepares itself to leave the EU and where we need to build for our future in both travel and trade.
“The Logistics Hubs and our Business Summits are both instrumental in our aim to ensure that Heathrow benefits the whole of the UK.”