ABP boss reveals bigger plans for business park as Newham prepares for Chinese investment

By Rob Virtue on February 13, 2014 9:11 AM |

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With his expensive suits and flash shirts, Xu Weiping has the air of a very confident man.

Which is important when you are tasked with the huge job of turning an area of Royal Docks wasteland into a 35-acre multi-billion-pound business hub.

But unlike another audacious regeneration attempt back in the '80s and '90s a few miles to the west, Mr Xu says this is no gamble and believes Newham is more than ready for its arrival.

Canary Wharf had a number of false starts before becoming a success story but much of that was due to the lack of infrastructure, something Mr Xu points out is no longer an issue for east London.

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"In 2018, by the time we arrive, we are going to have Crossrail," said Mr Xu, chairman of ABP. "Not just that but there's the DLR and the Tube. So, by 2018, it will be the area best connected by the transport network.

"As long as we have the Crossrail project finished in 2018 this area will be a fantastically well connected place.

"Central London and the west is very crowded. East London is the place to go. The infrastructure is excellent."

Even the more controversial transport system in the Royal Docks, the Emirates Air Line, makes the Chinese business leader swoon.

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"The cable car represents modern transport," he said. "We very much like the cable car. It's the only one of its kind over a river and the Chinese love it."

Mr Xu was in the Royal Docks last Wednesday to sign a contract to move into Newham's Building 1000 in the coming months. The council-owned structure, next to the development site at Royal Albert Basin will be home to ABP during the lead-up to the business park's launch.

The scheme is China-led and the first firms to show interest are from the Asian country. In total 57 companies have signed an expression of interest. In total, 20,000 jobs could be created.

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Mr Xu said getting those firms to give a concrete agreement was not the only aim; he was broadening his ambition to attract a global audience.

"Maybe 10% of those interested parties will sign up, maybe 80%, maybe 100% but whatever the result we will continue talking to more and more companies about coming here," said Mr Xu.

"It's not just for Chinese firms but for everyone. This isn't a China business park it's a global business park. That's very important."

Speaking through a translator at Compressor House, next to Building 1000, where exhibitions for the Royal Albert Dock site were held last week, the ABP chairman said early interest had encouraged him to think bigger.

"We want to build the site far beyond the boundary of the current plans," he said. "That's what we want to see in east London and we're fully confident we will get it done. We want the community to support us and watch over us to make sure it will be done."

ABP is now working with Newham to lodge a planning application shortly and the two share the hope it will be heard later this year.

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Newham's executive mayor Sir Robin Wales said, while the ABP proposals were one of many for the area, it was the most significant because it was "moving along faster than the others".

"In Mr Xu we've a guy with vision and that vision is to attract companies' investment into the area," he said.

He called on Mayor of London Boris Johnson and the Government to return some of the money Newham would create to provide for even better transport links. This, he said, was key to encouraging more firms to relocate to the area.

"This is going to create a lot of money and we need that money to be spent on transport in the area not in other parts of London," he said.

"It doesn't matter if it's spent here or in places like Barking or Dagenham as long as it's east London.

"There's something like 27 road crossings west of Tower Bridge and we've got three. And what's the answer in the 21st century for Boris Johnson? A ferry. We've wanted a bridge for a long time, along with Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and even a Conservative borough in Bexley.

"Roads here will be under pressure as we develop and improved transport would create jobs and opportunities."

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