Manchester Airport City cleared for takeoff with Chinese investment

The chancellor has all but signed a deal with China's largest bank to invest in a huge infrastructure project near Manchester.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 04 Nov 2013
Given the sheer effort the government has put into trying to attract investment from China over the past couple of years, we’d say George Osborne can celebrate a small victory this morning after he secured investment from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China into Manchester’s new Airport City enterprise zone.

The bank – China’s largest – will sign the deal (figure unknown) when Osborne visits Beijing the week after next (incidentally, the day after Boris Johnson heads there on his own trade mission).

Airport City is part of the expansion of (you guessed it) Manchester Airport. The hub is expected to double passenger capacity by 2030, and as part of it a group of developers including Argent (the team behind the rejuvenation of London’s King’s Cross) and Carillion will plough £650m into creating 5 million square feet of offices, shops and parkland across 150 acres. The scheme will, reckons the team behind it, create 16,000 jobs over the next few years.

What’s interesting is that the investment is one of the first major forays by a Chinese financier outside London. Although, according to US think tank the Heritage Foundation, Chinese investors have ploughed nearly $18bn into British projects since 2005 – a third of which has happened since last year and $2.5bn of which has been this year – most of that has gone into London and the South East.

But despite the fact that half the Tory Party will visit China over the next few months (David Cameron is expected to head over there at some point this year), businesses have pointed out that the UK’s visa system makes it difficult for potential Chinese investors to visit, let alone give us their money.

Last week, Willie Walsh – the chief executive of British Airways parent company International Airlines Group – complained Chinese visitors think ‘we don’t want them’.

‘If we’re to be attractive to, particularly high-end tourists, we’ll have to have more people who can speak Mandarin and make them feel welcome – not just at the airports but at major tourist venues,’ he said. He added that making Chinese visitors shell out £80 for a visa, compared with £56 for  Europe’s 26-country Shengen border-free zone, isn’t exactly welcoming.

It’s a topic that’s come up a few times lately, so chances are it’ll form part of Osborne’s negotiations. We’d imagine retailers wouldn’t be averse to a few extra Chinese tourists, either….

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