It’s full steam ahead for Sheffield’s £1 billion deal with a Chinese property tycoon, council chiefs have pledged.
Officials have been working on the project with Sichuan Guodong Construction and a progress report will be made soon, according to chief executive John Mothersole.
Owner Wang Chunming continues to be ‘a very wealthy man who wants to invest in our city’, he added. He spoke out after the Lib Dems questioned the ‘apparent lack of progress on the partnership’.
Mr Mothersole added: “He has chosen Sheffield for his first major business investment outside of China. What’s not to like?”
Last year, Sheffield City Council signed a 60-year partnership with Mr Wang’s company.
It is set to be worth £1bn, with up to £220m in the first few years and gave him ‘exclusivity’ over redeveloping the Central Library.
Wang Chunming had proved his ‘financial wherewithal’ and his company’s relationship with the city had not changed, Mr Mothersole added.
Sheffield Lib Dems have raised questions over the partnership with Sichuan Guodong Group which they claim has ‘so far produced nothing’.
Council leader Julie Dore signed a 60-year deal in Chengdu last year, set to bring £220m over the first three years.
Martin Smith, Lib Dem cabinet member for business and investment, said they had not been allowed to see the agreement and had questioned the apparent lack of progress.
He added: “This raises yet another question mark over the council’s ability to manage big contracts.
“Did the administration carry out their own due diligence investigation before signing the deal?”
But Mr Mothersole said it was business as usual.
He added: “Mr Wang has not broken his relationship with Sheffield. Nothing has changed.
“He has proven he has the financial wherewithal and has made more commitment to the city in the early stages than most developers.
“He has chosen Sheffield for his first major business investment outside of China. What’s not to like?”
The partnership was a commitment to work together on real estate schemes and included exclusivity over one building, the Central Library, he added.
“The relationship today is exactly the one we thought we would have, nothing has changed. We have a good relationship with Wang Chunming.”
Last year, the partnership had transferred from a public company he had shares in to a private company he owned, Mr Mothersole added.
“Mr Wang, with our full knowledge, divested himself of shares in the public listed company and it now has no direct relevance to Sheffield.
“The private company, Sichuan Guodong Construction Group, allows him more direct control over the project.
“We will continue to carry out our own due diligence as the partnership develops and are satisfied that our own policies have been followed and that there is no issue with our work in developing a partnership.
“We are making good progress towards this.
“It is potentially one of the largest, and most innovative deals between a UK city and a Chinese multi-national company and that doesn’t come without its challenges, but the council is committed to exploring it fully.”