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President Xi bypasses Birmingham to take Northern Powerhouse tour

President Xi bypasses Birmingham to take Northern Powerhouse tour

🕔26.Oct 2015

While Chinese financiers and investors were meeting business and civic leaders from the West Midlands to talk about the possibility of investment sometime in the future, the real deal was taking place in Manchester, writes Paul Dale.

The Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP was understandably pleased that as an offshoot of the visit to the UK of President Xi Jinping Chinese institutional funders and developers are taking an interest in some of Birmingham’s major regeneration projects.

Representatives from China met West Midlands politicians and business representatives in London to talk about projects including the HS2 terminals at UK Central in Solihull and Birmingham Curzon. Birmingham Smithfield – a £500 million retail and leisure hub to cover 14 hectares in the city centre currently occupied by the wholesale markets – was also showcased.

Since the West Midlands is the only English region to operate a trade balance with China, currently standing at £2.7 billion, it might have been thought prudent for President Xi Jinping and his entourage to visit Birmingham. As it happens, the Chinese President ended his state visit with a tour of Manchester accompanied by David Cameron.

They didn’t simply talk about possible investment. They announced actual investment, or as the Prime Minister put it:

The North of England will forge new partnerships with China and unlock the potential of the Northern Powerhouse.

It was announced that China’s Hainan Airlines will begin direct flights from Manchester to China – the first outside of London. The deal is estimated to provide a £50 million boost to the Manchester economy and will open up Chinese business links into the vast area covered by the Northern Powerhouse.

Other deals confirmed include:

  • Beijing Construction and Engineering Group (BCEG) appointed as main contractor for the Middlewood Locks regeneration project in Manchester. BCEG will also provide £4million development financing to help kickstart the project.
  • Hualing Group has signed an agreement with UK real estate company Scarborough Group International to invest in three major regeneration projects in the north: Middlewood Locks, in Manchester, Thorpe Park in Leeds and Sheffield Digital Campus.
  • The University of Central Lancashire establishing a joint innovation and entrepreneurship campus with the Shenzhen Government in south eastern China.
  • Hong Kong based company Netdragon Websoft is finalising the acquisition of the educational supplies company Promethean World Plc, based in Blackburn, for £84.8million, securing 671 jobs.

The Prime Minister said:

We are committed to rebalancing our economy and building a Northern Powerhouse. China is a key trading partner for the UK and the partnerships being made today will see real investment going into the North.

This is all part of this government’s plan to attract more investment and deliver economic growth to an area of huge potential.

Rather than visiting Birmingham, where they could have experienced the delights of Villa Park and St Andrew’s, the Prime Minister and President decided to visit the Manchester City Football Academy where they watched a training match and meet with players – past and present from Manchester City and Manchester United – including Gary Neville, Patrick Vieira, Denis Law and Mike Summerbee.

They moved on to the National Football Museum, where they inspected Chinese and British artefacts including the 1930 World Cup ball and a seven panel football – a gift from the China Football Museum which pre-dates 1914. They also witnessed Chinese football player Sun Jihai being inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame.

The Prime Minister and President attended a lunch at Manchester Town Hall, alongside more than 200 businesses, civic leaders and community representatives from across the North of England and China, providing an opportunity for the Northern Powerhouse to strengthen links with China.

On their last stop, they visited Manchester Airport as Hainan Airlines announced their new route. The Prime Minister and President saw an exhibition for Airport City Manchester and met with the Airport’s Chief Executive to discuss the plans for this new initiative.

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