Singapore firm inks $12b deal to develop township in China

THE founder of developer Dragon Land has signed a $12 billion deal to develop a vast township site in China - one of the biggest property deals in recent years.

Mr Peh Chin Hua, who was elected MP for Jalan Besar GRC in 1988 and served for 13 years, told The Straits Times yesterday that he was excited about the project.

"At Dragon Land, we had a hand in developing townships in Fujian, Shandong and Jiangsu. But this is the biggest I have had so far. And it is not easy to get land for such projects in China these days," he said.

The deal involves Mr Peh's company, the Singapore White Group, putting in a commitment to invest about $12 billion to develop a series of projects in Zhangye, a city in Gansu province, western China.

The work includes building a township, a country club and affordable housing modelled after Singapore's Housing Board flats.

The group signed the agreement with the Zhangye government in February to invest in the 18.97 sq km site. White Group completed the tender process and received the green light to proceed with the project on Monday.

Mr Peh said the company, with its subsidiaries and partners in China, will develop the project in five phases.

They will invest about $2 billion in the first phase, which will consist of affordable housing and a country club.

About 38,000 flats will be built on a 2.72 sq km site with a plot ratio of 1.8. The flats will be completed in three years.

The country club sits on land of about 2.63 sq km.

Mr Peh estimates that the size of the residential project in the first phase alone is as large as the Toa Payoh residential area.

The group has agreed to sell about 3,500 flats to locals at a price capped at 2,990 yuan (S$610) per sq m, as part of a commitment to keep prices down. The homes will be about 120 sq m each, meaning that each one will cost some 350,000 yuan.

"We want to build affordable housing for residents there, and we intend to construct Singapore-style HDB flats," said Mr Peh.

He added that the group could join up with other companies and developers for the other four phases. "It is a huge project, and we are open to working with other partners."

Mr Peh has been part of China's property scene for many decades. He founded Dragon Land, a developer of townships in China's provinces. He later sold his stake in Dragon Land to Keppel Land. Dragon Land was delisted.

Since then, his Singapore White Group has been investing in various townships and developing public housing in China.

For this deal, the group has engaged former Singapore chief planner Liu Thai Ker to draw up the township's masterplan.

"It is of a fair size, and the principle is to base the plan on the Singapore experience and model of a town," said Mr Liu.

Architect Brett Mogg of Australian firm Nelson & Haworth has been asked to design the country club.

Singapore has a track record of building townships in China. A successful example is the Tianjin Eco-City, the flagship bilateral project between Singapore and the Tianjin government. The eco-city is also already home to nearly 4,000 residents, with a working population of about 5,000.

aaronl@sph.com.sg