High stakes play on the waterfront: Nick Gilbert on the Taiwan boys with a dream for Battersea

TWO Taiwanese boys at boarding school in North Wales liked the UK so much that 25 years later they pumped pounds 10m of Dad's money into one of London's most spectacular ruins.

At noon on Friday, George Hwang, 41, and younger brother Victor became the owners of Battersea Power Station, the listed red-brick building on the Thames. Along with the empty hulk, they acquired 31 acres of redevelopment potential that, to the dismay of his bankers, turned from a dream to a nightmare for its owner, Cheshire entrepreneur John Broome.

After selling Alton Towers, the Staffordshire theme park, to the Pearson Group three years ago, Mr Broome planned to open 'The Battersea' - a pounds 100m-plus theme park. But the project ran into financial trouble and work ceased.

The arrival of the Hwangs, whose father moved his fortune from Taiwan to Hong Kong about 10 years ago, has been welcomed in Wandsworth, the Conservative London borough that has been severely embarrassed by the large hole in its midst and the failure of Mr Broome to pay pounds 170,000 of council building fees.

'We're just delighted that somebody with real financial resources has come along and that something is happening at last after 10 years of waiting,' says council leader Edward Lister. 'It's the largest undeveloped site in central London and the potential for jobs is enormous.'

That, of course, was just as true a decade ago. About the only recent rival proposal was a little less fancy than a theme park: turning the station over to a rubbish-recycling plant.

Even now, the Hwangs, who control a Hong Kong based property, shipping and construction business, have not disclosed their plans for the site - though Mr Lister hopes to hear more at a meeting in a few weeks' time. So, too, will English Heritage, which oversees listed buildings.

'They said they want to preserve the power station but with a few caveats,' says Mr Lister.

Those who know the Hwangs say the caveat is simple. If they can see a way of turning the ruin into money, fine. If not, they will back off unless the listing is lifted, and the power station could be bulldozed.

Despite its listing, the power station is not to everybody's taste and jobs are jobs. Opening up the site would also release the redevelopment potential of 10 adjacent acres.

The Hwangs are likely to be less interested in a huge theme park (though they have a stake in a similar venture in Japan) than in building offices, leisure facilities, a hotel and luxury flats.

The family's most famous and most visible asset is part-ownership of Parkview, a development featuring more than a dozen 20-storey luxury apartment blocks in Tai Tam, a country park on Hong Kong Island.

The brothers, backed by their father, have taken over the power station by buying out the debt held by banks, which had lent about pounds 70m to Mr Broome's company. They are thought to have paid about 15p in the pound with Bank of America, which took over Security Pacific, Mr Broome's original backer, taking the lion's share of a pounds 60m write-off.

But the Hwangs have hardly got a bargain. They have yet to reach a deal with building company Sir Robert McAlpine, which is owed a rumoured pounds 15m or more for its work stripping out asbestos and strengthening the foundations of the power station. To redevelop the site fully could cost up to pounds 500m - a sum they are unlikely to be able to afford themselves and one which the banks, after the experience with Mr Broome, are unlikely to rush to lend.

But the Hwangs like the waterfront site. There is talk of them putting some of their operations, including the proposed Battersea venture, into a new British company and trying to raise funding on the stock market.

The Hwangs are used to thinking big. Another current notion is to buy a disused oil refinery in the US and ship it pipe by pipe to China. The main difference between that idea and Battersea is that the Chinese economy is on a flood tide, growing at 10 per cent a year, whereas the old power station is at low water.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Sport
Remy Cabella celebrates his goal against Hull
footballLive: All the latest from today's Premier League matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee