In May 2013, the London Major Boris Johnson announced an ambitious £1bn deal to transform London’s Royal Albert Dock into a new business hub in the capital: The Asian Business Port. The contract, which was pitched to developers last year, was won by the Chinese commercial developer, Advanced Business Park (ABP). The deal, which was given the green light in July 2014 by Newham Borough Council, is on course for completion by 2017. So, what can we expect from this large-scale regeneration project?
A New District Beckons
As the name suggests, The Asian Business Port is predominantly aimed at Asian companies seeking office space in the UK. The £1bn estimated gross development value for the east London business park is the largest investment put forward by a Chinese company in British history. The plans outlined by ABP and development managers at Stanhope will provide more than 4.7 million sq ft of commercial, retail and residential real estate. In a statement, Boris Johnson claimed that the park would generate an estimated 20,000 jobs and would become “London’s third great business area" behind the City of London and Canary Wharf. Johnson predicts that the scheme will inject £6bn into the London economy and will promote growth and create jobs to the Royal Albert Dock, which has been in “continuous decline for about 50 or 60 years”.
The Royal Albert Dock, which was opened in 1880, is one of three Royal Docks in east London. Today, 35-acres of undeveloped land is currently used as an overflow car park for the Excel exhibition centre and was used as the site for 2007 and 2008 Red Bull Air Race.
Since the green light was given in July, the Asian Business Port has gathered interest from its target market overseas. A report in November 2014, stated that at least 10 Chinese firms, including the Zhejiang Hongxiang Construction Group, have signed intention agreements to buy office space within the new complex. It has emerged that developers have targeted biomedicine and finance firms to occupy the commercial real estate and that the project is currently accepting applications.
In a press release from July 2014, ABP chairman, Xu Weiping, said: “We look forward to getting started on the first phase which will deliver around one-third of the site. We have seen high demand from China and the Far East and hope to complete this first phase by 2018, generating economic activity and creating thousands of new jobs over the next five years.”
The five-year Asian Business Port development is part of a larger inward investment plan to boost trade links with China: the world’s fastest growing large economy. Delegates from China’s medium and large sized cities have been in talks with UK cities, such as London and Birmingham, to strike mutually beneficial trade deals. This October, research claimed that China is prepared to invest £105bn in UK infrastructure by 2025 - a huge increase on China’s current investment figure of £11.7bn between 2005 and 2013.
This influx in UK investment from the Chinese, who are looking for economic safe havens overseas in the wake of economic slow growth, has been labelled as a “game changer” for the UK.
A recent Channel 4 report into claims of corruption during the Royal Albert Dock bidding process has hit the news in November. Allegations in the report include ABP human rights violations and a project referral from Xuelin Black, the wife of the UK Home office minister Lord, Michael Bates to the boss of ABP, Xu Weiping. To accompany her liaisons with ABP, she also donated £162,000 to the Conservative Party, which has since diminished to just £5,000 following ABP’s win of the contract. It was also revealed that ABP hold the lease to London and Partners’ Beijing Office: the London-based promotional company that were responsible for marketing the Asian Business Port project.
A New Era
While the post of London Major was established to push through bureaucratic barriers to bring in large scale projects into London, the report and future investigation has put Boris Johnson under fire over the fact that questionable overseas bidders had an unfair advantage over UK developers. However, the reality is that these recent revelations will not change the course of the development and the influx of foreign investment into the UK. In the wake of the recent G20 summit where David Cameron issued a stark warning that a financial crash is on the horizon, particularly in the Eurozone, the emphasis on trade links with Asia is likely to increase over the coming years.
Following ABP’s contract and subsequent questions, the Royal Albert Dock, which has witnessed a changing London landscape over the past century, could now be seen as a symbol for London’s next beckoning era. With money continuing to pour into the UK economy from foreign investors, particularly within property and infrastructure, British companies are likely to be competing with Asian counterparts over the coming decade.
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