Norman's News - Innovation and Tourism

Added Tuesday, April 17 2018

It is great to see the HMS Caroline restoration and heritage project finally open for public viewing. It adds another and welcome piece to the jigsaw in bringing back to life the so-called Thompson Triangle, at the north end of Queens Island. 

I guess this began around the Millennium when a hardy band of ‘Titanic-oraks’ encouraged the scheduling of the two docks; Alexandra and Thompson. The Pump-House, though still functional, was in pretty sad condition and was placed on the Buildings at Risk register (BARNI). 

In mid 2002, Catalyst Inc (as the Northern Ireland Science Park), won a modest grant from the “Chancellor’s Fund”, a series of projects laid out by Gordon Brown during his post Good Friday Agreement visit in 1998. We took on a lease from Belfast Harbour Commission and began to develop the site, which included the Pump-House and Dry Dock. 

A pro bono engineering study of the Scheduled Area, led by H&W’s Dock Master and to which our Universities contributed their expertise, gave us practical advice. In particular, they advised to keep the Thompson Dock as dry as possible with modern pumping, because otherwise the caisson (gate) would begin to fail and could only be recovered at vast expense. This plan was agreed and executed.

On the back of £250k of our own funds, we raised £900k from NITB, Better Belfast and Heritage Lottery and cleared the area to the prescription of NI Environment Agency (NIEA), made it safe for visitors, brought the Pump-House out of the BARNI register and refurbished its northern end as a café and exhibition area, focussing on innovation past and present. Paying visitors averaged 50,000pa, while passing visitors in buses and taxis, reached an estimated 200,000pa. 

We continued with a mixture of business, tourism and innovation events in the area, alongside the burgeoning science park, under the banner “Titanic’s Dock and Pump-House”. Also developing fast was the excellent visitor experience that we know today as the £100m Titanic Belfast and SS Nomadic.

In 2012, we had a year of wide tidal swings and regularly the Dock flooded to depths that caused our small pumps to fail. With partial support from NIEA, we agreed and authorised work to build a protective fixed (but removable) concrete outer sea wall. Thus, the Dock floor became accessible to the public for the first time ever. 

Today, as you visit HMS Caroline afloat and ashore, I do urge you to look behind the excellent displays of the Battle of Jutland and appreciate the wonderful Anglo-Irish engineering that is within the last remaining ship of the line of her generation. 

We are proud of our role in rejuvenating part of what is now the Titanic Tourism offering (parts of which date back to 1880) and how we have built a thriving innovation ecosystem in the area that was once the heart of a global shipbuilding industry and led the world in engineering excellence. 

Today, for example, ½ Trillion dollars are processed and protected by Belfast developed software and cyber security products. New tools for the future of computing and the internet are being developed. New ways of delivering health care and interventions are coming out of NI based research and development. All of this within the private sector, employing 3,000 people and adding over £100mpa to our economy.

It is a great story of Growing the Good and Building the New (a phrase I have taken from the Young Influencers Network that started one evening in the Pump House a couple of years ago) - a story that we haven’t finished writing yet!

Norman Apsley, CEO Catalyst Inc