Mayor Boris Johnson says there is “plenty of room” for Gulf states and companies to buy up more London property and invest in major developments, denying there are concerns over the increasing influence of Arabs in the city.
“Great cities are going to compete by being attractive to tonnes of individuals from around the world, that’s how the world economy is going to be in the next 30 or 40 years, and it’s a great asset to London that we’re able to count on the affection of people from this area,” he said during a visit to the UAE this week.
In recent years, increasingly wealthy Gulf sovereign wealth funds and state-owned companies have been buying up iconic buildings across the city and investing millions of dollars in key infrastructure projects such as DP World’s port project that will revitalise the city’s shipping industry.
Qatar either owns or has a stake in London’s The Shard, Harrod’s department store, Chelsea Barracks, One Hyde Park, the Olympic Village and the building housing the American Embassy, while Abu Dhabi owns numerous venues within the Olympic Village and has built a clean energy facility that generates electricity for about 20 percent of London households.
Rich Arabs also are increasingly being spotted in suave areas such as Mayfield and Knightsbridge, where they live in their multi-million dollar mansions and drive luxurious cars.
Happily describing himself as the “mayor of the eighth emirate”, Johnson said London welcomed the Arab world’s keen interest in the city.
“Great cities are going to compete by being attractive to tonnes of individuals from around the world, that’s how the world economy is going to be in the next 30 or 40 years and it’s a great asset to London that we’re able to count on the affection of people from this area,” he said.
“When you look at the opportunities in London, there are 18 huge opportunity areas … ripe for development; believe me there’s plenty of room for investors, not just from the Middle East but from around the world.”
Johnson, who was in the UAE and will also travel to Kuwait, is hoping to shore up even more investment from the region into London.
He revealed the city was interested in linking DP World’s port to a yet-to-be-announced new airport, while he also had been in discussions with organisations including Abu Dhabi-owned developer Mubadala and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.
“Lots and lots of things [are] in the pipeline and we’ll continue to be engaging with friends and contacts we have made here,” he said.
“The conversations have been very, very interesting.”
London’s population is estimated to grow by another 1 million people by 2021, making new investment even more important.
“That’s going to put huge pressure on our housing stock and on our transport infrastructure,” Johnson said.
“There are great opportunities for investment in both those types of things that will deliver long-term yields so it will be no secret to you that we’re having discussions about housing and development opportunities … and our partners here are certainly very, very interested in some of the transport infrastructure opportunities as well.
“One thing I think is so impressive about this part of the world is people’s willingness to have an idea, back it and then make it work no matter how difficult or irrational it may seem in the beginning.”
UAE President Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed also is due to make an historic visit to London at the end of the month, in a sign of the country’s recognition of the developing relationship between the two countries.
Johnson said UK Prime Minister David Cameron also placed great emphasis on ties with the region.
“[He] attaches great importance to … the relationship between the UK and the UAE and this is a relationship that is strategic, that is commercial diplomatic, there are so many ways in which we want to intensify cooperation,” Johnson said.