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Chinese developer sets sights on UK expansion

The major Chinese developer behind a £1.7bn scheme in east London is planning further investment across the UK and wants to introduce Asian firms into the UK construction market.

ABP chairman Xu Weiping told Construction News that the company had ambitions for UK developments beyond its transformation of the Royal Albert Dock.

“We will develop across the country,” he said, adding that he was interested in areas including Oxford, Cambridgeshire, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Initially the company will look to work near its debut Docklands development and purchase surrounding land for new projects, according to Mr Xu, but it will also look further afield.

“I would like to introduce some Asian contractors to the UK to work on the ABP project”

Xu Weiping, ABP

Speaking through a translator, Mr Xu said: “We will develop across the country but here is very important because it’s the first step.”

ABP was chosen by the Greater London Authority to transform the Royal Albert Dock in May 2013.

The developer plans to turn the 14 ha site into a new business port aimed at Chinese and Asian businesses.

But despite ABP’s commercial focus, Mr Xu said he would be interested in developing residential units in future schemes.

He also said he would like to bring Asian firms into the UK construction market.

“My understanding is that the construction market in the UK is not really open to Asian countries, which is a shame.

“But if it is, then I would like to introduce some Asian contractors to the UK to work on the ABP project.”

For Royal Albert Dock, the chairman said he had his eye on “the top three” construction companies in the UK and would be looking to choose the firm that “best fits ABP”.

It will select a main contractor for the first phase of the scheme before October with a view to complete this stage by 2018.

He added that his “dream” would be for UK and Chinese firms to bid for work as joint ventures, likely featuring UK contractors and Chinese companies involved in technology.

“The collaboration of east and west is the most powerful thing,” he said.

In November last year, Construction News revealed Mace had entered into an agreement with China Building Technique Group to bid for work at ABP’s Royal Albert Dock.

CBTG specialises in construction research, materials supply and building standards and is wholly owned and governed by China Academy of Building Research, the largest R&D organisation in China’s building industry.

“Since ABP’s first project in China, we [have become] used to competition, so we are very confident”

Xu Weiping, ABP

As part of the agreement, it is understood that CBTG would bring Chinese design expertise to the partnership as well as funding, while Mace would contribute UK building and integration expertise.

Mr Xu would not confirm which contractors ABP is engaging with.

Asked whether ABP had plans to rival established UK developers, he said “competition is inevitable, so prepare yourself”.

“China is not as experienced as the UK, but, in the past 30 years, since ABP’s first project in China, we [have become] used to competition, so we are very confident.”

He said both Chinese and UK construction markets could learn from one another.

“This is obviously a large-scale project so it will bring returns for UK contractors and more importantly they will understand more about Chinese culture, habits and needs in terms of construction.”

He said that the merging of cultures was having an influence on ABP’s design, with projects “incorporating classic Georgian-build style”.

He added: “In the future we will bring more Far East elements into the design and landscape so this is also an opportunity for contractors to learn.”

The Royal Albert Dock is expected to be worth £6bn to the UK economy when complete.

A report published by Pinsent Masons has estimated £100bn of Chinese investment will flow into the UK by 2025.

It found Chinese construction companies will play a “catalytic role” in transforming the UK industry through joint ventures and partnerships.

In April, Construction News revealed that Chinese developer Wanda One had selected a UK-Chinese joint venture to build its £900m One Nine Elms development in central London.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Is this a privately owned company helmed by a buccaneering chairman? No, it's heavily backed and directed by the Chinese state. Your last issue contained an article belittling the skills and margins available in the UK (written by a KPMG employee, a firm who will make big fees from all sides ), suggesting it would be hard to to compete with Chinese firms. There's a bigger story here about what is free competition and what is good for the UK in the long term. It would be good to get a balanced and more probing story on this question.

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