Sheffield businessman Kevin McCabe has urged the city council to keep working on its relationship with China and not think the deal is ‘done for life’.
The property tycoon, who owns half of Sheffield United FC and grew up in the city, said the council’s 60-year deal with the Sichuan Guodong Construction Group was a ‘fantastic’ opportunity.
But he urged councillors and city leaders to make their bond with the Chinese firm stronger in order to get the best for Sheffield.
“Sheffield mustn’t think the deal is done for life now,” he said.
“If I could give a message to people it would be go and talk. If people can’t get closer, city to city, then they can’t consolidate a partnership.
“Most local governments need people who talk for them, who are out there profiling the city to encourage people to invest. To build relationships they have to be consistent.”
Mr McCabe is founder and chairman of Scarborough Group, a global property firm with interests in four continents.
He has years of experience dealing with Chinese businesses, and has set up several profitable partnerships with Far East firms.
It was through Mr McCabe, who is originally from Sheffield, that the council began the process of twinning with the Chinese city of Chengdu.
The arrangement brought politicians and business leaders into contact with their Chinese counterparts, and eventually led to the signing of the deal with Sichuan Guodong chairman Wang Chunming earlier this year.
No details of potential developments have yet been revealed, but the Chinese firm will invest £220 million over the first three years of the partnership, with the council choosing the projects.
Mr McCabe called the deal ‘fantastic’, adding: “It’s great that there is such a commitment.
“Some people in China make amazing wealth – that you or I can’t imagine – pretty quickly, because of the size of the economy. I would put Mr Wang into that category.
“He is very committed to the city and I see no reason as to why the agreement they have reached shouldn’t work out.
“It allows Sheffield a fantastic opportunity to work with their partner on investing that money easily. Like in real estate, to open up areas of Sheffield that will create opportunities for more homes, more space for employment, and to push the city to the size and profile that it really demands.
“We have lagged behind. Manchester is more valuable as a city to real estate developers. Leeds likewise. There’s no reason why Sheffield can’t catch up. They have got a partner and a deal that makes that possible.”
Scarborough Group is not involved in the deal with Sichuan Guodong, but has plenty of its own interests in Sheffield, including the £45 million Digital Campus near the railway station.
Two of the four buildings opened in 2010, bucking the trend set by the recession. They have been hugely successful, and a third building is now under construction, with a fourth to follow.
“When the financial crisis hit, the western world – out with cities like London – the world stopped,” said Mr McCabe.
“Projects that had been planned got put on hold for about seven or eight years. It was during that period when nothing happened. There was stagnation.
“Our office block in Sheffield is speculative. It is the biggest outside London. But we are confident because nothing happened in Sheffield for seven or eight years.
“Sheffield at long last is getting some profile, partly I think because of this deal. It must not lose the opportunity it’s got with a partner that has the resource.”
Chinese involvement in the UK has been called into question recently – particularly over the £18 billion Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. China will fund about a third of the development.
But Mr McCabe said concern over Sheffield’s deal was unfounded.
“Having been in business for 50 years or more, the world has changed,” he said. “You can’t imagine the difference. Life had advance so much and the world has got smaller.
“In the case of China it can’t be ignored. China is a wonderful example of a nation building its infrastructure. It’s a country of nearly 1.5 billion people. Compare China and India – there is no comparison. India may have wealth, but it’s not spread wealth.
“Any nation that wants to prosper needs partners. Why can’t these partners come from China?”