Indian media tycoon Subhash Chandra has slammed the UK’s investment policies which are blocking his plans for a multi-billion-pound investment to create a world-class visitor attraction celebrating Indian culture and history in east London. Chandra’s Essel Group had unveiled plans to redevelop a 62-acre brownfield site in east London’s Royal Docks area known as Silvertown Quays last month. A proposal was submitted to the Greater London Authority (GLA) to purchase the land from the current developers, The Silvertown Partnership (TSP), a consortium consisting of Chelsfield Properties, First Base and Macquarie Capital. But it has now emerged that the proposal was not formally tabled before the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, because both sides are in a procedural deadlock.
“The challenges that Essel Group has encountered in bringing this investment to London have come as a surprise to me,” said Chandra, chairman of the Essel Group. He revealed that Sir Stuart Lipton, of Chelsfield Properties, had given his full support to plans for the leisure complex, describing it as “an extremely special place”. While Lipton said the decision is in the hands of the GLA, the authority – which had also praised the plan – said it cannot formally present it to the Mayor without the authority of TSP. “This defies logic because Silvertown is publicly owned land and this approach suggests that the commercial interests of the developers are being put ahead of what is best for London,” said Chandra.
“The Silvertown Partnership require the approval of the GLA before they can proceed with a rival offer from another party to develop Silvertown. For common sense to prevail, the GLA must seize this opportunity to consider credible alternatives,” he added. The Indian businessman says the London centre was to kick-start his long-held ambition to build at least three major cultural centres in the world, the other two in the US and Asia, dedicated to helping all nations explore “peaceful solutions to the current threats facing humanity”. As part of this ambition, the Essel Group wants to regenerate Silvertown Quays, which includes a commitment to build 3,500 homes – 35 per cent of which will be affordable housing.
“This is far more than outlined in the current development plans for this site and the cultural centre alone has the capacity to attract 10 million visitors to the UK each year, and create more than 5,000 jobs. This is the kind of investment the Mayor’s campaign aims to achieve – one that shows London is united with the world and proud of its history,” Chandra said, expressing his deep disappointment at the “visionary proposal” not getting to the formal presentation stage. He added: “Since the EU referendum, I have watched the Brexit negotiations with cautious optimism, encouraged by the government’s pledge to improve the accessibility of trade with India through the new India-UK Trade Partnership, and by initiatives such as the Mayor of London’s #LondonIsOpen campaign”.
“As such, we remain hopeful that the British government and the Mayor of London will not allow this important investment into London to be lost.” Spanning 2.5 million square feet, Essel Group’s proposed cultural centre would include museums and a theatre, retail outlets, restaurants, a botanical garden and a luxury hotel. Cultural visitors will start at the top of the centre and work their way through museums, art galleries and interactive experiences highlighting the origins of the Indus Valley and other civilisations to the modern day. A conference centre, exhibition facilities and a global news and TV production studio are also proposed.
TSP were appointed the preferred developer for the Silvertown Quays site in 2012 by GLA, the owner of the land, and Stuart Lipton entered into talks with Essel Group last month. A spokesperson for City Hall, the London Mayor’s office, said Khan is committed to ensuring regeneration of the Silvertown Quays site, which has the potential to deliver thousands of much-needed new homes, as part of the wider redevelopment of the Royal Docks. “The Greater London Authority has a contract with The Silvertown Partnership (TSP) to develop the site and, under its terms, is unable to consider alternative proposals unless asked to by TSP,” the spokesperson said. TSP has not officially responded on the issue.