FEC sets sights on capital as Northern Gateway advances

Less than six months after being selected by Manchester City Council as the lead developer on the Northern Gateway scheme, Far East Consortium (FEC) is already looking to partner with the public sector on major projects in the south-east.

Head of UK development, John Connolly, says FEC is not one to “shout from the rooftops” about its plans, but with several large-scale and complex sites now secured, it has a proven track record to go to local authorities and say: “We have delivered and are delivering - now we are ready for more.”

So how are its existing projects progressing and what exactly are FEC’s future plans?

Since launching in the UK, the family-run, Hong Kong-listed firm has grown its residential development and hotel portfolio to a gross development value of £1.1bn.

By far the biggest project is Northern Gateway, where 10,000 homes are set to be built over 10 years on a 350-acre site that sweeps north from Victoria station, taking in the neighbourhoods of New Cross, the Lower Irk Valley and Collyhurst.

Since FEC was picked as the scheme’s developer in April, the board has signed off the consultants it wants to deliver the Northern Gateway and the architect is soon to be named.

Replicate success in the south

The company’s other UK schemes are also progressing well. Angel Meadow, a £200m residential development in Manchester, is about to launch off-plan before construction starts next year and building work is also due to start in 2018 at Alpha Square in Canary Wharf, which comprises three residential towers, a hotel and a primary school.

FEC’s ambition is to line up another Northern Gateway beyond Manchester.

“We want to replicate that in the south somewhere,” says Connolly.

Ideally, he would like to secure a large, 10- to 15-year regeneration project that has the capacity to deliver between 3,000 and 10,000 residential units.

Connolly is looking for a public-private-partnership arrangement with a government body such as the Homes and Communities Agency, or local authorities within London. Woking is one town in the mix, but all commuter towns within an hour’s train ride of London are on its radar.

He is currently waiting to hear back from the Greater London Authority on whether FEC has made it through to the next stage of selection for the mayor’s London development planning framework.

If FEC succeeds, it will be one of 30 developers chosen to deliver residential-led schemes across the capital.

Tried-and-tested strategy

Working with public bodies is a tried-and-tested strategy for FEC. “We’re looking to replicate what we have in Australia, where we are one of the go-to developers. Most of our developments there involve working with public land.”

The approach of an Asian company such as FEC is “significantly” different to that of a UK developer, says Connolly.

“Our chief executive is an experienced developer. He has more than 250 hotels,” he says. “His approach is confident and our philosophy, once we have spotted an opportunity, is to get on with it. FEC is comfortable in its financial position to then be able to push these developments forward.”

Our philosophy, once we have spotted an opportunity, is to get on with it - John Connolly, FEC

Connolly argues that the company’s ability to deliver developments at speed is one of the reasons Manchester City Council picked it for Northern Gateway and that this will prove decisive in other bids.

Also working in the company’s favour is its approach of using local firms to deliver local projects, as well as its financial strength, he says.

At Northern Gateway, it will invest £25m in infrastructure improvements using its own balance sheet. “It’s not easy to secure finance for infrastructure, but we are blessed with our own capital. We can use our own equity resources to take projects forward.”

FEC has tabled bids for a number of opportunities and is “pushing hard” to get another large project secured by the end of the year.

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