Shanghai On Shannon?

Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby reddy » Mon Nov 08, 2010 11:08 am

What do you guys make of this?

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2010/1106/1224282775497.html?via=mr

Chinese plans to create a city in Co Westmeath that will act as a trading hub for Europe have met with delight and disbelief in almost equal measure. But the project seems to be advancing stealthily, writes MARY FITZGERALD

IT HAS BEEN the talk of Athlone for almost two years. What began as vague whisperings of Chinese investors scouting the midlands town for a major project soon developed into umpteen rumours, each one grander than the last. Local wags spoke of “Shanghai-on-Shannon” – but there were few facts. “It all appeared quite nebulous until the Taoiseach spoke publicly about it in late June,” says Tadhg Carey, editor of the Westmeath Independent. “That seemed to make it more real in the eyes of people here.”

Brian Cowen’s comments failed to shed much light, though he confirmed he had met some of those involved. “It’s about exploring the potential of this idea,” Cowen said.

A week later the Westmeath Independent published excerpts from a preliminary design statement and an image of what the project might look like. It describes “the greatest commercial and trade centre, tour centre, cultural centre, amusement centre and international conference centre in Europe”. The plans include a convention centre in the style of a Chinese palace, two five-star hotels, apartment complexes, a railway station, two bus terminals, a school, a medical centre, a fire station, a six-hole golf course and a 180m tower topped with a rotating viewing gallery.

The heart of the project would be an exhibition area with up to 20 trade halls, a commercial district and a retail service zone. The promoters say it could draw 20,000 to 35,000 visitors per week.

An editorial in the Westmeath Independent captured local sentiment: “The scale of the reported development is mind boggling . . . Athlone would become a city, almost overnight, and its focus would clearly move eastwards.”

The story caught the attention of the international media. The Guardian drew comparisons between the concept and Beijing’s recent investments in Greece under the headline “Ireland at forefront of Chinese plans to conquer Europe”. It wrote: “Ambitious Chinese companies are pouring money into cash-strapped Ireland and Greece to gain a foothold in Europe.” Before long, local councillors were fielding calls from journalists in England, France, the US, Germany, the Netherlands and China.

“They were curious as to why a small town in the midlands of Ireland could be the focus of something so big,” says Aengus O’Rourke, Fianna Fáil councillor and son of local TD Mary O’Rourke. She met the prospective investors last year through Ken So, who owns Ken’s Oriental Restaurant in the town and is a long-standing family friend. Aengus O’Rourke describes So as a “facilitator” for the investors.

His mother was given a detailed presentation on the project. “They laid the plans out on my living room floor,” she says. “It was all very intriguing and even a little mystifying.”

Her initial response was that it would present a good opportunity, she recalls, until the investors began to talk of who would work there. “They were proposing that all the people employed in the building and the manning of it would be Chinese. I told them I didn’t think that would be acceptable. We would need a mix of Chinese and Irish. They were talking about 12,000 people but, at that time, the plan was very vast, very fanciful. As I understand it, they have now changed their plan.”

She introduced the investors to her son, who was president of the local chamber of commerce. He arranged a meeting with his cousin Conor Lenihan, who was minister for integration. Those at the meeting included a British-based businessman of Chinese origin who works in logistics and food imports, and several Chinese investors who spoke through an interpreter. “The people who came from China are very big players there, employing several thousand people each,” she says. “They work in areas including electronics, home wares, lighting and green energy. They are very serious and very successful businessmen.”

More meetings followed, including with the Taoiseach. The promoters met the Minister of State for Housing and Local Services, Michael Finneran, several times and he visited their Beijing offices during a St Patrick’s Day trip this year. The site of the proposed development, in Athlone’s eastern hinterland, falls within the boundaries of what was designated a developing area by the Department of the Environment in 2008, and therefore comes under Finneran’s brief. (Developing areas are those identified in the National Spatial Strategy as fast-growing and in strategic locations.)

In September, speculation in Athlone intensified after councillors voted to approve a local area plan comprising 302 hectares in Creggan on the town’s eastern fringe. Many noted parallels between it and the Chinese proposal.

“The language used in terms of the objectives of the local area plan is striking,” says Carey. “It talks of developing Creggan as a ‘world-class enterprise, innovation and trading hub’. That is not the sort of language you have in normal local area plans in the midlands.

“There is no denying that the local area plan is a de facto zoning blueprint for development of this scale, size and type. It would appear to the outsider that it has been designed as such, and the similarities are not accidental. That has added to the public interest.”

Attempts to contact the investors and the two local developers who own the site proved unsuccessful. Others involved in different aspects of the plan declined to comment. Many who have met the investors describe the proposed facility as like a permanent trade fair.

“What is being proposed is a massive trading hub, which will allow Chinese companies to display their wares in large exhibition halls for the European market and beyond,” says Finneran. “Buyers will be able to do all their purchasing in one location instead of going to China, where they might have to travel to several cities. This will save them a lot of time and money.”

He says reports in the international media that the complex will include factories are inaccurate. “There is no question of any manufacturing being done here,” he says.

Co-operation with China is nothing new for Athlone, which has forged links over the past decade, mostly under the direction of Prof Ciarán Ó Catháin, president of Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT). “We could see China was fast becoming a global power and we were interested in partnering with some of the leading drivers of that development,” says Prof Ó Catháin. AIT has established exchange programmes with higher-education and research institutions in such cities as Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Dalian. Several hundred Chinese students come to Athlone every year and the institute offers Mandarin classes. Chinese ambassador Liu Biwei has been a frequent visitor to the town.

The Chinese embassy says it had few details of the proposed trade hub, however. “This is a private investment project,” a spokeswoman says. “We have no further information.”

A spokesman for the Taoiseach says the Athlone plan did not feature in discussions on trade and investment when Cowen met visiting Chinese officials in September. The delegation led by Li Changchun, a senior Communist Party of China official, represented the highest-level visit since premier Wen Jiabao came to Ireland in 2004.

Cowen said he had stressed to them that Ireland was ideally placed to become a gateway to Europe for China. “We have been a great gateway for US investment into Europe and I think we can do the same for Chinese investment,” he said, adding that Ireland has important advantages, including being the only English-speaking country in the euro zone. He is to lead a trade mission to China early next year.

Duncan Freeman, who researches EU-China trade and investment at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, says the language could be a major pull for the Chinese investors. It is understood they also looked at several other sites across Europe. “Given that English is the international business language, it is an important factor for a lot of Chinese companies,” says Freeman.

“The favourable tax regime is also likely to be a factor, as is the fact that Ireland is seen as having, in terms of regulation, a relatively business-friendly attitude. From the Chinese perspective, this makes it more appealing than some parts of Europe, which are seen as bit too complicated and difficult.”

One persistent rumour in Athlone concerns the number of jobs and how many would be filled by Chinese nationals. “There are reports that if this comes to fruition, some 2,000 of the people employed there would be Chinese,” says James Bannon, a local Fine Gael TD. “I would have reservations about the prospect of a self-contained community separate to Athlone. Jobs for local workers should be a priority. We need more information about what exactly is being proposed. There is an onus on the Government to be more upfront about this. At the moment no one really seems to know what is happening.”

That could all change soon. It is understood that a formal planning application is to be lodged with Westmeath County Council early next month.

Such is the scale of the proposal, however, that many in the town remain sceptical. “Some people’s attitude is we’ll believe it when we see it,” says Aengus O’Rourke. “It’s that big.”

Why China is investing in Europe

When the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, addressed the EU-China business summit in Brussels last month, he mixed honeyed words with pointed reminders of how Europe’s financial crisis had changed the parameters of its relationship with Beijing.

After years of focusing its investment efforts on Asia and Africa, China has set its sights on Europe, wooing troubled euro zone economies with deals worth billions.

Wen said the EU is now China’s largest partner in trade and investment, ahead of the US and Japan. He spoke of how Beijing had acted as a “friend” by buying bonds and helping Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy in “their most difficult time”. His words echoed those of the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, after a meeting with Li Changchun, a senior Chinese official, in September. He “was very clear that China would be as helpful as it can to a friend like Ireland in the difficult times we have”, he said.

Some of Beijings biggest deals have been in debt-ridden Greece and Italy. One allows Cosco, China’s state-run shipping firm, to turn the Greek port of Piraeus, Europe’s largest for passengers, into a regional entry point for Chinese goods. Cosco has similar plans to expand the port at Naples. There is talk of Chinese money being funnelled into Greek shipbuilding and telecommunications, as well as infrastructure projects including roads, railways and airports in eastern and southern Europe. Last year the China Overseas Engineering Group was accused of undercutting European bids when it landed a contract to build a highway in Poland.

“The slide of the euro has slashed business operation costs in Europe and has made investing there much more attractive to Chinese businesses, Zhou Jizhong, a professor at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, told Asia Times earlier this year.

The Irish Times - Saturday, November 6, 2010
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby teak » Mon Nov 08, 2010 3:59 pm

Chinese investment in Greece is just a cheap way of getting their nickel .
The investment in Ireland would be caused by the Chinese need to secure sufficient
food provisions and also some of the more sophisticated process technologies
associated with it, e.g. casein extraction.
I doubt if our other industries are that special to them.

And no way will this metropolis be built.
A mirage, man.
We have to define our own future here, in planning & construction as much as in
our indigenous industries.
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby reddy » Mon Nov 08, 2010 4:16 pm

teak wrote:Chinese investment in Greece is just a cheap way of getting their nickel .
The investment in Ireland would be caused by the Chinese need to secure sufficient
food provisions and also some of the more sophisticated process technologies
associated with it, e.g. casein extraction.
I doubt if our other industries are that special to them.

And no way will this metropolis be built.
A mirage, man.
We have to define our own future here, in planning & construction as much as in
our indigenous industries.


Yeah it strikes me as a pipe dream alright. Maybe we'll be proved wrong.

From a planning point of view, it hardly looks or sounds very sustainable. Surely somewhere like Shannon or Drogheda, with access to existing ports and air infrastructure would be more suitable? From an urban design/ masterplanning point of view, the plan itself also looks like complete dross - again a more detailed assessment of it might prove me wrong but there seems to be little consideration for placemaking and the creation of a new community.
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby onq » Mon Nov 08, 2010 4:42 pm

I have some small experience in planning matters relation to such mega-developments - and appealing them.
This development seems to ignore the national spatial strategy - at least, I'm not certain this complies with the standing of the area or the loading on the approach roads.
Unlike in former years when disastrous planning decisions led to silly zonings and stand-alone residential estates - things have changed.

See this thread here
http://www.archiseek.com/content/showpost.php?p=111304

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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby rumpelstiltskin » Mon Nov 08, 2010 9:39 pm

onq wrote:I have some small experience in planning matters relation to such mega-developments - and appealing them.
This development seems to ignore the national spatial strategy - at least, I'm not certain this complies with the standing of the area or the loading on the approach roads.
Unlike in former years when disastrous planning decisions led to silly zonings and stand-alone residential estates - things have changed.

See this thread here
http://www.archiseek.com/content/showpost.php?p=111304

ONQ.


It'll be an interesting culture clash when a hugely successful can-do nation like China tries to get to grips with planning legislation etc in our little banana republic. I'd like to think that all of this bureaucratic gibberish would be put to one side on this occasion in the national interest, since this would represent a stunning opportunity for Ireland in a time of depression. But that's probably wishful thinking.
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby PVC King » Mon Nov 08, 2010 10:52 pm

The rationale behind the project seems very sound for a country that is 7/8 timezones from EU and 12 from the East Coast of the US in addition to having serious infrastructural constraints considering their trading prowess. The ability to market ones goods in one place only 1-2 hours flight time from the Worlds largest market and at very competitive tax rates to act as a fiscal laundromat is genius; Singapore of the North.


Why one would want to put a project of this scale so far from an airport is another story; run right this would be beside a major airport, sea port and would be on a site of 1,000 acres with a masterplan rolling out buildings of 6-25 storeys in an area subject to local oversight but exempt from planning within a pre agreed envelope of macros agreed by all key stakeholders.

Why I am suspicious is that the Asian (HK & Singapore) development scene is certainly the most advanced on the planet and none of the usual suspects are listed in the article.
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby missarchi » Tue Nov 09, 2010 12:35 pm

I'm assuming they will build there own train line.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcYttbDmDmA
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby FunkyCoW » Tue Nov 09, 2010 12:47 pm

It doesn't make logistical or financial sense considering that Romania & Bulgaria are all closer to China by land, sea and air and have substantially cheaper land and labour markets
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby Tayto » Tue Nov 09, 2010 1:05 pm

reddy wrote:What do you guys make of this?

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2010/1106/1224282775497.html?via=mr


The Irish Times - Saturday, November 6, 2010



I don't know if anyone here ever played the computer game "Civilization", but that picture looks like an advert for the latest version. Surreal.

I reckon the plan is to entice the Chinese to make a planning application.
Then the local and national planning appeal industry kicks into overdrive and the fun starts.
Bring it on!
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby onq » Tue Nov 09, 2010 3:26 pm

FunkyCoW wrote:It doesn't make logistical or financial sense considering that Romania & Bulgaria are all closer to China by land, sea and air and have substantially cheaper land and labour markets


Yeah, but sure there's no young people over there to have a bit of crack with.

They're all over here living in Athlone - aha!

I think we've stumbled on a plot!

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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby reddy » Tue Nov 09, 2010 3:27 pm

One of the reasons cited for their choosing Ireland over other European countries was the comparative ease of obtaining planning permission!! Hmmm.

There're a few xenophobic threads burgeoning on this online, mostly around worries that the jobs created and provided will be solely for Chinese and the creation of a ghetto community isolated and unintegrated.

However if this is handled properly it could be a huge opportunity. The planning authorities should insist on this being an exemplar of sustainable urban design and architecture, similar to Dongtan or Masdar.
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby keating » Tue Nov 09, 2010 3:32 pm

This is just spin, to keep the value on a green field landbank zoned for district center, there is likely to be up be huge development leveraged on this worthless land. Get the local takeaway owner to call his mates back home and get a kid with 3d studio and hey presto you have a story like this.

Remember the world class pharmaceutical hub for Tralee?
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby PVC King » Tue Nov 09, 2010 8:02 pm

reddy wrote:There're a few xenophobic threads burgeoning on this online, mostly around worries that the jobs created and provided will be solely for Chinese and the creation of a ghetto community isolated and unintegrated.



Hedge fund manager Hugh Hendry of Eclectica was on Newsnight last night and he asked a very pertinent question; why would a Chinese company locate in the West when they can employ one of their 12m annual graduates who typically work for $3,000us p.a. in the UK graduates must pay £9k or c$14k for each year they spend in university.

I think assertions that the jobs would solely for Chinese nationals are misplaced for now; at start up they would employ a lot of locals but as they established strongh management systems that over time they would hire from home.

My fears on this are more in line with Keatings in the last post; serious chinese business people have been doing high value business in Western markets for years they would make their approach in a manner that would not have anyone knowing the origin of the investment. With the right site the idea could work but it needs an airport and a large local population; Athlone has neither.
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby onq » Tue Nov 09, 2010 8:13 pm

PVC King wrote:With the right site the idea could work but it needs an airport and a large local population; Athlone has neither.


"So far", as Home Simpson would say.
I'm sure Michael O'Leary would build them an airport, for say - exclusive - long haul flights into China.

As for "population" the Chinese have 1.3 Billion, many of whom would gladly relocate to Ireland to further the Chinese economic expansion.
However their history in other continents like Africa may suggest to some that they do not integrate well and tend to import their own labour force.

From http://www.progressive-economy.ie/2010/07/china-iii-beijings-scramble-for-africa.html

"For example, China is rebuilding oil-rich but corrupt Nigeria's poor and inefficient railway system. However, China will supply nearly all the equipment and technical personnel, and at prices which it determines. And in line with other projects in Africa, China will supply most of the workers."

Ireland is a country that's already found it difficult to decide between Boston and Berlin.
Now we can add Beijing to make it a three way split.

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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby PVC King » Tue Nov 09, 2010 8:29 pm

I'm sure Michael O'Leary would build them an airport, for say - exclusive - long haul flights into China


Looking at the COSCO investment in Pireaus they seem a lot happier leveraging existing facilities and then investment from base infrastructure.

However their history in other continents like Africa may suggest to some that they do not integrate well and tend to import their own labour force.


Everyone does in Africa; the real challenge for many African countries is the development of high skilled professionals in the natural resources sector; and some others it is corruption and in some places you got to admire the Chinese for side stepping the corruption and skills shortages to deliver planning gain in the form of new hospitals etc.-

Ireland is a country that's already found it difficult to decide between Boston and Berlin.
Now we can add Beijing to make it a three way split.


When bond markets close you got to go the holder of the World's largest foreign reserves with a rational business case; by all means fund Athlone IT to develop courses to feed a project like this but compare the Dublin Galway rail line to what is being built in China; they would be the ones laughing at us. However they would one would hope look at the fantastic success E-Bay has had here as an e-commerce hub and develop an improved model incorporating a business to business version complete with acres and acres of showrooms for their dramatically successful exporters.

Airport and population being key
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby Bago » Tue Nov 09, 2010 10:12 pm

Just as constantinople became a trading hub of silks, perfumes and spices, Ireland shall become the world trading hub of bath ducks and christmas decorations. A noble goal for the new republic.
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Re: Shanghai On Shannon?

Postby PVC King » Tue Nov 09, 2010 10:18 pm

Architectural progress a palace of bath ducks no longer a theme park of McMansions!!
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