A £500 million ($772 million) plan for a Chinese developer to rebuild London’s famed Crystal Palace appears to have fallen apart recently after 16 months of delay.
Despite attracting a shortlist of architects including Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers and David Chipperfield, the plan by the Shanghai-based property developer has been given up for dead after the city council responsible for approving the bid to rebuild the Victorian era landmark in a London park refused to renew an exclusive development deal.
Privately held Zhongrong Group had announced in July 2013 that it would replicate the “spirit, scale and magnificence” of the iron, glass and steel structure built by English architect Joseph Paxton to host the Great Exhibition of 1851. The original Crystal Palace was moved to a park in suburban London after the Exhibition and later destroyed by fire in 1936.
The failed plan stands as testament that even seemingly cashed-up developers like Zhongrong may have trouble implementing large scale projects internationally.
Re-Creating an Architectural Landmark in a Mixed-Use Project
Zhongrong had won preliminary approval to undertake redevelopment of the Crystal Palace and the surrounding park from the city council of Bromley, in suburban London, in October 2013. In plans developed for the group by engineering firm Arup, the project was to include a hotel and conference centre, a visitor centre, a concert bowl and other commercial facilities. The project did not include residential property, however.
Due to the Crystal Palace’s place in British history, an act of Parliament passed in 1990 stated that any new building on the site in Crystal Palace Park must be in the spirit of the building first erected in Hyde Park in 1851 for the Great Exhibition.
Deal Falls Apart After 16-Month Waiting Period
Since October 2013, Zhongrong has held exclusive rights to negotiate with the Bromley Council over the site, however, that deal expired on February 1st with the Chinese developer having yet to submit detailed plans.
The council gave Zhongrong an additional two weeks to respond, but by mid-February had received no response from the Shanghai-based group.
In announcing the end of the agreement with Zhongrong, Bromley Council leader Stephen Carr said that it needed to reassure its constituents that Crystal Palace Park would be improved. According to a story in the BBC, the council said that it was not reopening negotiations with other parties interested in redeveloping the landmark.
London Still a Hotspot for Chinese
Despite Zhongrong’s struggle to make the Crystal Palace project work, London remains a favored destination for real estate investment from China.
Advanced Business Park, a Beijing-based developer, recently secured funding from a mainland private equity firm to build a £1 billion ($1.5 billion) scheme in a run-down section of eastern London.
The country’s insurers have been buying office assets in London at an accelerating pace as well, with Ping An picking up its second project in London earlier this year.
A report released by real estate consultancy Savills during January found that Chinese buyers are now the second biggest foreign investors in the London property market, having spent £2.2 billion ($3.32 billion) on real estate in the UK’s capital last year.