BATTERSEA has become the most talked about word in London. Malaysians travelling to this city over the last few days have been asked the same question by Immigration officers on arrival: “Are you here for Battersea?”
At Bayswater in Central London, one of the city’s most cosmopolitan areas with significant populations of Arabs, Greeks and even Brazilians, I was asked by an Arab salesman at Whiteleys if I was from Kuala Lumpur and whether I was attending the Battersea Power Station development launch.
British friends, especially those with links to Malaysia, also asked for help to get invitations to the Battersea regeneration event on Thursday.
Everyone wanted to be part of history. It is safe to say that there has never been any property groundbreaking event in Europe which was attended by two prime ministers and the mayor himself!
All three – Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, David Cameron and Boris Johnson – endorsed the project, declaring the enormous economic benefits that would be brought to the city.
Foreigners, including house buyers, see the Battersea property project as a good investment. Londoners see thousands of jobs being created and, better still, a RM4bil underground rail line in the works.
It was exactly 30 years ago on Thursday when the Battersea Power Station stopped producing power for the city but, as SP Setia boss Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin rightly pointed out, that power is back again in Battersea to bring a planned RM38bil development to the area.
It is a massive project by all counts, with the first phase comprising a block of 865 apartments that will be completed in two years. All the apartments have been sold, mostly to Malaysians, Singaporeans and Hong Kong buyers.
The project, which is backed by Sime Darby Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), is unprecedented for a Malaysian consortium in one of the world’s biggest financial centres. The icing on the cake is that Liew beat Chelsea football club boss Roman Abramovich to the prized land, where Stamford Bridge, the club’s stadium, is not far away.
Local residents associations also lent their support to the Malaysians as they feared Abramovich’s plan to relocate the stadium to Battersea could cause traffic disruptions but bring few new jobs to the area.
After 30 years, life will be rekindled at the abandoned coal-fired power station once the project is in full swing. Located on the south bank of the River Thames, the station once generated about a fifth of London’s electricity.
It was used as the backdrop for Pink Floyd’s Animals album in 1977 and this writer has been made to understand that talks are ongoing to convince the remaining members of the hugely successful band to reunite for a charity concert at the iconic site.
In more recent times, Battersea was used to launch the Conservative Party’s election manifesto, according to Boris Johnson.
At one point, it was bought by John Broome, chairman of Alton Towers, who wanted to turn it into a British Disneyland. Hong Kong businessman Victor Hwang wanted to turn it into a shopping mall but the plan never took off.
The groundbreaking event by Najib and Cameron saw plenty of history being made. The two premiers carried out bilateral talks for 30 minutes on the upper floor of the site sales office – where the show unit is located!
Johnson, as usual, cycled his way to Battersea while it has to be recorded here that a Malaysian bomoh was flown all the way to London to ensure the unpredictable British weather was beaten. Whether it was the bomoh’s expertise or sheer luck, the rain stayed away.
Now that the fanfare is over, the real work needs to be done. The sales of the first phase have been a roaring success. SP Setia, in fact, had to turn away buyers.
The real challenge would be the subsequent phases. Getting Arab investors and buyers for the higher-end units would bring higher value to the project. There is also a need to secure sales from European, American and East European buyers.
Liew, who is well known for his down-to-earth approach, played down his visionary role in making the Battersea project a success. Instead, he attributed the success to the backing of Najib and the British leaders. He consistently reminded journalists, who billed it as Malaysia’s success story, that he has never felt so proud of being a Malaysian, a sentiment shared by his countrymen regardless of their race at the event.
But the reality is that Battersea is really a feather in his cap. His leadership, professionalism, dynamism and commitment have made this first step to changing the skyline in London possible. He has successfully flown the Malaysian flag in England.
This should serve as a reminder to Permodalan Nasional Berhad, the giant Malaysian asset management company that now owns the majority share in SP Setia, that Liew should be allowed to carry on his work with no interference.
In the day-to-day management, Liew and his men know their job inside out and they have the track record to prove it.
Let the professionals do their job and I am sure his financial backers, Sime Darby and EPF, would feel the same way. Their concern is that their investments must see good returns, that’s all.