Developer courts Chinese firms for huge new Manchester business district

LONDON, March 10 Sun Mar 9, 2014 8:01pm EDT

LONDON, March 10 (Reuters) - The developer of a huge new business district in northern England is planning a roadshow through cities like Beijing and Shanghai to attract Chinese tenants to Manchester.

China's Beijing Construction Engineering Group says the project is the biggest in Britain since the 2012 Olympics and believes it could help move the centre of economic gravity away from London.

Last October, BCEG announced it would become a 20 percent partner alongside construction group Carillion and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund to develop an 800 million pound ($1.34 billion), 5 million sq feet business district at Manchester airport, Britain's third busiest.

Its choice of Manchester marks a departure from the path taken so far by most Chinese property developers, such as Advanced Business Park, that have so far headed first to the capital, where demand for space has stayed strong through the downturn compared to the rest of the country.

"The project itself by size is the biggest development project since the London Olympics ... I think the way people do business in the UK, particularly in the northwest, will be changed because of this project," Xing Yan, BCEG International's managing director told Reuters by phone.

"No one would deny that there are a lot of opportunities in London but if you study carefully, if you do your work well, there are opportunities everywhere," he said.

BCEG, which employs 20,000 people worldwide and worked on the 2008 Beijing Olympics' gymnasium venue, is being backed by China's biggest bank by assets, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a source told Reuters in October.

Britain has been trying to woo Chinese investment as part of plans to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015. The Airport City deal was announced by finance minister George Osborne during a trip to China last year.

London has often been accused of sucking up business and talent at the expense of other British cities, resulting in a local economy that has rebounded strongly since the financial crisis even as other parts of the country still grapple with high unemployment and slower house price recovery.

The value of offices, shops and industrial property across Britain fell as much as 42 percent after the 2007 financial crisis. While London property has since recovered 41 percent of its value, the rest of the country has only rebounded by 9 percent, accoding to data from Investment Property Databank.

Another British city, Liverpool, has pitched heavily for Chinese investment in recent years, proposing a 55-storey skyscraper to be called Shanghai Tower, which would be the tallest building outside London if constructed.

The Airport City consortium will visit Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen from June 9-13 to drum up interest from Chinese firms who want to rent or buy space in the scheme, which is part of a wider, 116 hectare enterprise zone, Xing said.

He said that while the consortium hoped to attract Chinese firms from sectors such as technology and manufacturing, it would also visit other countries to market the scheme.

Express delivery DHL has already signed up to take 40,000 sq feet of space at the project.

"China has become the engine of the world's economy," Xing said. "There are a lot of business people, companies in China, that are looking for opportunities to invest internationally and Europe is a mature and safe market to a lot of these business people."

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