DEAL DEAD: Sheffield’s £1 billion partnership with Chinese investor is over

Sheffield’s £1 billion deal with a Chinese investor – which included turning the Central Library into a five star hotel – is dead.

Tuesday, 9th July 2019, 6:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th July 2019, 9:08 pm
Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore signing the deal with Wang Chunming, chairman and president of Chinese firm Sichuan Guodong Construction Group

The council spent £40,000 courting Wang Chunming, the chairman of Sichuan Guodong Construction, but he has not invested any money in the city.

Coun Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for business and investment, said there were many deals which did not com e to fruition for the council and plenty of other Chinese developers had invested in the city.

He was unable to say when the council last had dealings with Mr Wang but the businessman was sent a book outlining investment opportunities last year and did not respond.

When asked why Mr Wang had not invested in the city, Coun Iqbal said: “Only Mr Wang can answer that, I wish I knew. It looks like he is not interested in Sheffield any more.

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“Sheffield provided five private sector investment opportunities for Mr Wang and, for me, it’s like any other negotiations we have.

“We were very hopeful that this investment would materialise and unfortunately it didn’t but that’s not bad news for Sheffield as he has not invested anywhere else in the UK.”

It’s almost three years to the day since the council signed a 60-year partnership with Sichuan Guodong Construction in what was supposed to be the biggest Chinese investment outside London.

An initial £220m deal promised millions in foreign investment into the city over three years, and up to £1billion over the following 60 years.

While most deals are done behind closed doors and announced once the paperwork is signed, the exclusive agreement with Mr Wang was unveiled with great fanfare when Council Leader Julie Dore visited China.

Coun Iqbal said: “This created a halo effect. Nothing may have come out of Mr Wang but it put Sheffield on the map and brought in a number of opportunities.

“You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s always important that the council is open, honest and transparent with the way we do things and I make no apology.

“Mr Wang’s daughter studied here and he saw Sheffield on the up. With any negotiations it is looking at the right opportunities and investment for our city and creating jobs and infrastructure. That’s the right thing to do.

“It’s not the first time talks have not worked out and people have walked away before. There have been circumstances where investment just hasn’t materialised for whatever reason.

“As a city we are open for business. If there is an opportunity in Antarctica, I will look into it. I will go anywhere in this world. We keep trying, we don’t rest on our laurels waiting for someone to come out of the sunset.

“People expect me to be pro-actively seeking opportunities for people to invest here. It takes years to negotiate deals, it’s not a couple of conversations, these are protracted long days and nights of negotiations.”

The council has the largest number of Chinese students outside London, with more than 4,000, and says it has new contacts and contracts being forged with the Far East.