MALAYSIA’S giant investor YTL Group plans to keep increasing its investments in the United Kingdom, shrugging off Brexit uncertainty.
The diversified group currently has more than £3 billion (RM16.17 billion) worth of assets in the UK and is eyeing new investments, said executive chairman Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh.
“We have been a long-time investor in the UK and are very comfortable with the environment. We provide quality, stable jobs and give credit to our employees and the YTL family for our success in the UK.
“YTL currently owns Wessex Water Plc and five luxury hotels in the UK. We are also starting our flagship property development project, Brabazon, in Bristol. There are more to come as we are looking for opportunities,” said Yeoh in Bristol recently.
Brabazon is a mixed development located at the former Filton airfield in Bristol. YTL Development UK, a wholly-owned subsidiary of YTL group, acquired the disused Filton airfield and the nearby Brabazon Hangars in 2015 from BAE Systems.
The development is worth over £2 billion and will contain 2,675 homes and 25ha employment space, among others.
STRENGTHENING BILATERAL TIES
YTL’s tie-up with the UK started way back in 1989 through a partnership with British-based construction firm John Laing Plc for the Nucleus Hospitals project in Malaysia.
Together, they built 13 well-organised Nucleus hospitals and hospital management systems throughout Malaysia, including Sabah and Sarawak, under a British Aid grant.
By 2002, YTL emerged as the largest Malaysian investor in the UK with the acquisition of Wessex Water, one of the 10 Water and Sewerage Co, (WASCs) there.
Over the past 17 years of the YTL ownership, Wessex Water has consistently been rated as one of the best performing WASCs by OFWAT, the UK water industry regulator, and is three time winner of the Queen’s Award for Sustainability.
“After Wessex Water, we invested in five hotels across the UK. The latest investment is the Filton airfield, which is in the Wessex concession area,” said Yeoh.
The group, through YTL Hotels & Properties Sdn Bhd, owns and operates The Academy Hotel in Bloomsbury district, Threadneedles Hotel in London, Monkey Island Estate in Bray, Berkshire on the River Thames, Gainsborough Bath Spa in Bath and the Glasshouse Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Yeoh reiterated that YTL is a long-term investor in the UK and the group is there to stay.
SPECIAL RECOGNITION FOR YTL’S CONTRIBUTION
YTL is the biggest Malaysian investor in the UK. It is also the only Malaysian group in the country which has received several prestigious awards from the British government.
The most recent is the honorary British award of Knight Commander of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE), which was awarded to Yeoh, the eldest son of the late Malaysian billionaire Yeoh Tiong Lay.
Yeoh, 65, was conferred the knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution in strengthening UK-Malaysia bilateral relations.
The award was presented by Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, at his official residence at Clarence House on Oct 13.
Yeoh said he was humbled and honoured by the recognition and attributed it to the hard work and dedication of all employees — around 10,000 globally — in the YTL Group.
“It’s a miracle for us as a Malaysian and I thank Lord Jesus. In 2006, I was awarded the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and now… a Knight Commander. I am grateful that the British government recognises YTL’s contribution to the economy. The knighthood was something that I did not expect but I am very thankful for, “ he said after the ceremony.
Yeoh thanked Queen Elizabeth II for the honour and the Malaysian government and wished to share the achievement with the country.
“I would also like to thank my family, my late father, my mother, my siblings, my late wife, my children and grandchildren for their support. My family has been my pillar of support and their unconditional love has kept me going. Most important of all, I give our Lord Jesus Christ who has guided me and given me every blessing all the glory and all the honour,” he said.
Yeoh, who holds an Honorary Doctorate of Engineering, and a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Kingston, was conferred the CBE in recognition of his substantial contribution to economic relations between Malaysia and the UK, and to the country’s economy.
He has also received numerous honorary awards from other foreign dignitaries. Last year, Yeoh was bestowed the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette by the Emperor of Japan and in the same year the Italian government conferred him the honour of Grande Officiale of the Order of the Star of Italy.
“Since our investment in early 2000, we have never looked back. We have invested more and more. We employ mostly Britain’s best and they have stayed with us as they saw the consistency of our investment,” added Yeoh.
YTL Developments UK has commenced work on the first phase of Brabazon, its flagship property development project at the former Filton airfield in Bristol.
This major development will be a new and thriving township in the north of Bristol city and is one of the largest master-planned projects in the United Kingdom.
The 153.8ha brownfield site will have 2,675 homes, 25ha of employment space (traditional office space to light industry), a mixed-use town centre, three new schools, student housing, a health centre, a university campus, recreational spaces, sport and leisure facilities, parks and green spaces.
YTL Developments will also build a 17,000-seater arena in the nearby Brabazon hangar, which could rival London’s O2 and Birmingham’s NEC. The company will develop the site into a world-class venue for the city. It will be the largest indoor arena in the South West of England and the third largest in the UK.
The company submitted a planning application to start building the first cluster of the 2,675 homes late last year.
On March 20 this year, South Gloucestershire Council granted approval to YTL to build the first 278 homes (127 landed properties and 151 apartment units) on the historic site, coupled with a 3.6ha park.
The homes, ranging from one-bedroom flats to four-bedroom houses, are expected to go on sale in the second half of next year, with the first residents moving in to Brabazon in early 2021.
These homes are designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and reflect the heritage of the site. The rooflines of the Brabazon homes are designed to echo the profile of the Concorde’s tail-fin.
The former Filton airfield is famous for being the birthplace of the world’s iconic and supersonic Concorde jet. The project is called Brabazon, named after the aircraft which took its maiden flight from the airfield in 1949. The final Concorde landed on the airfield on Nov 26, 2003.
Concorde 216 now stands in the Aerospace Bristol Museum, which is located adjacent to the Brabazon project.
YTL Developments director Datuk Yeoh Seok Hong said the homes in the first phase of the development would be competitively priced.
“I think people will be very excited when they see our master plan. Brabazon will be an extension of the Bristol city centre with thriving residential communities, urban offices and fantastic transport links into the South-West and London.
“We will price it very competitively for the early birds so that in time they will experience significant appreciation on their property (value),” Yeoh told NST Property in an interview during a visit to the Brabazon project site recently.
An existing one-bedroom house in Bristol is selling at an average £185,000 (RM996,870) while a three-storey detached house is going for around £500,000.
10-15 YEAR DEVELOPMENT
Yeoh said the Brabazon project could take 10 to 15 years to be fully developed, but he is excited about the the city’s prospects.
”As you can see, our investment in Bristol is long-term. We are targeting to launch the first phase of the development in the first half of next year, and will steadily bring more products to the market thereafter.”
Yeoh said he is bullish on Brabazon as Bristol is an established hub for innovation with a young and highly-skilled workforce.
It has been forecast that residential growth in Bristol would be 14.2 per cent over the next five years, which is double that of London. Bristol also retains over 25 per cent of its graduates while the aerospace cluster, in which it is located, provides 14,200 jobs.
There is strong engineering foundation in Bristol, added Yeoh.
“Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a British civil engineer who is considered one of the most ingenious and prolific figures in engineering history, was from Bristol. Today, Bristol is home to two world-class universities which have very strong engineering schools. They provide a constant conveyor belt of smart and inspired talent that end up working in Bristol. We will provide them with outstanding housing opportunities and exclusive lifestyle offerings.”
He said the group has two target consumer groups in Bristol.
The first are those who work in London but cannot afford London homes. They can travel to London in one hour and 10 minutes by rail and return to this verdant development after work.
“In fact, Bristol is the number one destination in the UK for people moving out of London,” said Yeoh.
The second group are local professionals who work in and around Bristol and are looking for beautiful and generous-sized homes.
“We are also placing greater emphasis on creating a vibrant public realm by introducing a public park in the centre of the development like Central Park in New York, in order to encourage communities to thrive and grow,” he said.
CREATING A VISIONARY DEVELOPMENT
YTL Developments UK chief executive Liam Lee said Bristol is fast emerging as a new investment haven.
He said at Brabazon, the company envisages creating something truly visionary in the local context to attract more people to the city.
“In urban settings there is often a mosaic of estates... hundreds of houses, but no community. We are different. Our aim is to create a city within a city. Our site is large enough for us to be ambitious and holistic in our approach. We can create a community with a deep sense of place like a new neighbourhoods, quality architecture and design, parks, homes, shops and work spaces, all in one place.
“Within the development there will be distinct areas with place-making features. Not only will our buildings be of a high standard and design-led, but we will also place a premium on public realm, and create a social heart in every neighbourhood where people can meet and feel part of a community,” he told NST Property.
Lee, who has 40-year experience in property development in Asia, was appointed chief executive of YTL Developments UK in June 2017.
He was formerly the group CEO of a major property developer for 17 years where he initiated and managed three large scale master-planned projects — Desa ParkCity in Kuala Lumpur (190ha); ParkCity Hanoi in Vietnam (77ha) and Marina ParkCity in Miri (220ha).
Lee said there are plans to incorporate some elements of Desa Parkcity into the Brabazon development.
“In Desa ParkCity, the neighbourhoods are very distinctive. They are gated-and-guarded and we are trying to adopt the same philosophy here in Brabazon. Each neighbourhood in Brabazon will have its own identity. We don’t just build homes, we build communities.
“Brabazon will be an iconic development. It will be a place where people want to stay, work and play. This is the largest private development in Bristol’s history,” he added.