Questions asked over Sheffield Council and the Chinese billionaire

Mr Wang and Sheffield Council Leader Julie Dore
Mr Wang and Sheffield Council Leader Julie Dore

Question marks hang over whether a billionaire Chinese businessman still plans to invest in Sheffield.

Council Leader Julie Dore says she has not had any direct contact with Wang Chunming, owner of the Sichuan Guodong Group, since the start of the year.

Two years ago Sheffield Council signed a £220m deal promising millions in foreign investment into the city over the next three years, and up to £1billion over the following 60.

But plans to convert Sheffield’s Central Library into a five star hotel failed to materialise and, as of April last year, an exclusivity deal with Mr Wang had not been signed.

At a recent meeting of the full council, the Lib Dems demanded to know what was happening.

Lib Dem Leader Shaffaq Mohammed asked Coun Dore: “What contact have you made personally with Mr Wang or a representative of Sichuan Guodong Construction in relation to progressing this investment in Sheffield?”

Coun Dore replied: “Since the start of 2018 I have had no personal direct contact with Mr Wang or any of his representatives regarding investment in Sheffield. Officers are in contact on my behalf.

“I have not been invited to visit Mr Wang or any representatives in China during the last 12 months.”

“There is no deal with Mr Wang but an agreement. He expressed extreme interest in investing in Sheffield and for that investment to be drawn down we have to agree on something that suits the council and the investors. This is why officers work with Mr Wang to determine what are the right deals in the interest of Sheffield.”

Earlier this year, Labour’s Cabinet member for business and investment, Coun Mazher Iqbal, said the council was still in talks. He said: “We continue to have dialogue and are looking at a number of projects and how viable they are. We continue to have dialogue but it’s not as straightforward as it seems. We continue to have delegations coming over to see us.”

In the 18 months between January 2016 and July 2017 council officials, including leader Julie Dore on one occasion, made multiple trips to China as they pursued a deal with Sichuan Guodong Group, as well as other investment opportunities.