China’s biggest developer enters UK market with plan to tackle London’s “post-industrial wasteland”

Country Garden, the largest developer in China, has bought an £80m ($110m) site in east London, its first venture into the UK property market.

Ailsa Wharf, in the Poplar district of Tower Hamlets, will be turned into 13 apartment blocks comprising 785 homes and 2,000 sq m of commercial space. Altogether, the project is estimated to have a development value of around $400m.

Planning permission for the scheme, designed by the local firm of Stockwool Architects, was applied for in October 2016 and given consent this year.

Some had considered the scheme a high-risk one because of ground contamination and ownership issues.

Stockwool describes its plan as the regeneration of one of the last remaining brownfield sites in Tower Hamlets: a heavily contaminated 2.5ha tract of next to the River Lea which has laid barren and unused for many years.

Its design seeks to change perception of the site from "post-industrial wasteland" to new urban quarter. The site has complex land ownership issues that have held back other attempts to bring it forward since 2003.

The site, between River Lea and an urban motorway (Stockwool Architects)

A Country Garden executive told The South China Morning Post that building work was likely to start in the summer, with the first properties due to be completed in 2021.

The move comes despite a change of policy by China’s Communist Party, which is placing tighter restrictions on foreign investment. This led to difficulties for of Country Garden’s massive 20-year, $100bn Forest City project scheme in Malaysia (see further reading for more on this story).

The SCMP’s source said the purchase in London was financed by non-domestic lenders, so it complied with state policies. They added: "Unlike the Malaysia project, which mainly targeted Chinese, this project will target locals."

Country Garden has a market capitalisation of $45bn, and in 2017 it topped China’s developers with contracted sales of 551 billion yuan ($87bn).

Top image: English Country Garden: How the site will look after rehabilitation, according to Stockwool Architects

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