Why China could hold key to Sheffield’s economic future

Leigh Bramall: Five-star hotel is key to Sheffield being able to compete for investment.
Leigh Bramall: Five-star hotel is key to Sheffield being able to compete for investment.
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AMBITIOUS PLANS to regenerate a Yorkshire city under a pioneering 60-year partnership with Chinese investors have been unveiled in a move seen as vital for the future of the region’s economy as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.

The Brexit vote has prompted the Government to state more needs to be done to secure investment from the Far East, with Prime Minister Theresa May claiming earlier this month that a “golden era of relations” between the UK and China is key to helping drive forward the economy.

As the proposals for the huge investment in the region were unveiled yesterday, it emerged that Sheffield City Council has given the Sichuan Guodong Group the opportunity to explore the feasibility of redeveloping the Grade II-listed Central Library building into a five-star hotel.

The firm’s plans for a £30m residential development along with an education partnership and trade deals with two Chinese cities, have also been revealed in a new report ahead of a cabinet meeting next week.

The latest announcement follows the deal secured earlier this year – in the first of its kind in the UK – to bring £1bn of Chinese investment for major city centre development projects in Sheffield.

The Yorkshire Post reported the first tranche of funding is expected to be worth £220m to fund four or five city centre projects over the next five years.

Details of progress on Sheffield’s deal comes amid concern that the vote to leave the European Union could discourage China from investing in the UK.

Former Chancellor George Osborne, who visited China with the leaders of Sheffield and Leeds Councils last year to drum up investment, recently called for renewed efforts to reassure the country the UK remains a good target.

Sheffield City Council deputy leader Leigh Bramall said a five-star hotel was “key” in order for the city to compete with other cities for investment.

However, he warned the scheme to transform the Central Library Building will be given a 12-month exclusivity period to establish its viability.

Coun Bramall said: “We are aware that it is a much-loved building so we want to manage that carefully. We have agreed on a 12-month exclusivity period. It’s an exciting opportunity.”

The report to the authority’s cabinet warns the library would require about £2.2m of investment to keep it open for the next three years.

It is estimated that a major renovation of the building would cost at least £16m and an extensive redevelopment would cost in excess of £30m.

The council is also working on a pioneering education partnership with the government of Chengdu, Sheffield’s sister city and the home of Sichuan Guodong.

Sheffield firm Bond Bryan, which designed Oasis Academy Don Valley, will build a sister school in Chengdu in what has been described as “ground-breaking initiative” between the two cities.

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