The Singapore-based property group United Overseas Land (UOL) has made its first European investment with the acquisition of a landmark London hotel site. It paid £97m for Gerald Ronson’s Heron Plaza development in the City.
The property tycoon was granted planning permission in 2011 to build a 43-storey Four Seasons hotel and residential complex next to the Heron Tower in the capital’s Bishopsgate area. Heron International originally intended to form a joint venture partnership for the project, but decided to offer the site for sale after a company restructuring.
It is not known if the new owner will seek to amend the planning consent, but Heron’s original scheme involved more than 562,000sq ft of floor area across a five-star hotel, residential apartments and ground floor retail units.
In the line with its international expansion policy, UOL – which runs 30 hotels in 13 countries throughout Asia, Oceania and North America – said it would push ahead with the scheme designed by PLP Architecture. It plans to operate the luxury hotel under its flagship “Pan Pacific” brand.
Gwee Lian Kheng is the UOL Group’s chief executive. “We are delighted to have acquired this prime site in London’s central financial district as part of our overseas strategic expansion,” he said. “We look forward to establishing a good rapport with the local community as we embark on the development of this project.”
His company has reported assets of £4.8bn with annual revenues exceeding £480m, mostly derived from property development. Since 2011 it has scooped several Asian property prizes, including twice winning the prestigious South East Asia Property Awards’ “Best Developer” title.
Long seen as one of the most successful businessmen of his generation and one of the UK’s most respected developers, Gerald Ronson founded the Heron Group – now called Heron International – in 1956. “In the current investment climate this was the right time to sell,” he conceded.
“Heron Plaza is a landmark site in the heart of the City of London, which we have owned for almost 15 years,” Ronson added. “The demand for the site demonstrated that there is significant international interest in acquiring prime London assets and we are capitalising on this opportunity.”
Heron International had previously held talks to sell the site to two Hong Kong investors for around £93m and in 2009 signed a deal with Four Seasons to operate the 190-bedroom hotel.