Goodbye London: De Beers Heads To Africa

Credit: Reuters/Shadi Bushra By Shadi Bushra LONDON | Thu Oct 3, 2013 1:48pm EDT LONDON (Reuters) – A Chinese billionaire said on Thursday he planned to spend 500 million pounds ($810 million) rebuilding London’s Crystal Palace, a huge glass and steel building that captivated the world before it burned down almost eight decades ago. Ni Zhaoxing, chairman of the ZhongRong Group real estate investment firm, hopes to recreate the 19th century palace that was the world’s largest glass structure before it was destroyed in a fire in 1936 that could be seen across London. The original Crystal Palace was designed by Joseph Paxton to host the 1851 Great Exhibition, held when Britain sought to awe other nations with spoils from its empire and the wonders of industrialization. Originally located in Hyde Park, it was moved to south London in 1854, and Ni now wants to build a replica there to the original dimensions of about 500 meters (1,640 ft) long and 50 meters high. “This is going to recreate a 21st century version of the palace,” London Mayor Boris Johnson told reporters. “This isn’t an act of nostalgia. It is looking forward and it is about adorning our city with a world-class structure.” The 180-acre park, where the palace once stood and includes the original terraced steps, is currently home to an amphitheatre that once hosted reggae singer Bob Marley, a national sports centre and a collection of giant dinosaur sculptures, which also date from the 1850s. If the proposal goes through, it would be another example of China’s growing appetite for investments in Britain. A Chinese firm signed a deal this year to convert London’s Royal Albert Docks into the city’s third financial district. “London is renowned across the world for its history and culture,” said Ni, who says he was tied to Britain through his English-educated daughters and love of British art. “This project is a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring its spirit back to life by recreating the Crystal Palace and restoring the park to its former glory,” he said. The Chinese company, which says the project would create 2,000 jobs, is seeking to profit from its investment by drawing tourists and using the area to host international exhibitions. Residents of the surrounding area have rebuffed numerous development efforts in the past, including proposals to build a cinema, a new sports centre and housing developments. “It’s being dressed up as a heritage project but there’s not enough details, and the devil’s in the details,” said Amanda Sciberras, head of the Crystal Palace Residents’ Association, who said the proposal appeared to be a commercial venture rather than a cultural one.

London air pollution ‘dangerously high’

Local environment groups placed 36 diffusion monitoring tubes on structures close to parks, bus stops, busy roads and in residential areas, to measure emissions in more than 30 streets. They were left for four weeks and only four were removed or stolen.Analysis by a laboratory used by government found that concentrations of the toxic exhaust pipe gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exceeded EU levels by over 50 per cent in some areas, and was over the safety limit in 15 out of 32 places tested. The results are alarming, say the groups, because colourless, odourless NO2 pollution is cumulative and the 15 sites surpassed the annual safety limit after only four weeks. The experiment suggests that official testing of roadside air pollution is limited and insufficient. Many of the tubes measured emissions in streets that are never monitored, and those placed near official monitors mostly recorded levels above those published by government. Air pollution from traffic in east London is considered by health experts to be some of the worst in Britain, mostly affecting the old and young and linked to respiratory and heart diseases. It is estimated that air pollution kills over 4,000 people in the city each year. The Green party assembly member Darren Johnson said on Friday that Londonas air pollution was an aabsolute crisis.a Environment groups expect air pollution to deteriorate further in east London if two major infrastructure developments are permitted. City airport has submitted plans which could allow it to add 50,000 more flights a year. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also wants a new Thames road crossing that could massively increase traffic. aOur sampling showed that in key public locations readings are breaching EU guidelines. We are being asked to believe that the massive expansion of London city airport will have only a negligible impact on air quality.

“There is a direct challenge to the De Beers sightholders system taking place,” says diamond entrepreneur Martin Rapaport, whose own group operates rough and polished diamond tenders. There are also questions about the wisdom of separating De Beers’ management, which will remain headquartered in London, from its sales and the expertise that has underpinned the group. “The diamond end of the business is going to become divorced from the corporate end of the business, and the corporate end of the business has already been largely denuded of diamond expertise,” said Brian Menell, whose family sold a stake in the Venetia mine to De Beers a decade ago and now has mining interests across Africa as head of the private Kemet group. He also pointed out the move brings De Beers closer to just one of its producing nations, which could arguably skew its views. Botswana accounts for almost three-quarters of De Beers production, but it also has mines in Namibia, South Africa and Canada. ANTWERP, DUBAI, GABORONE? For its part, Botswana – long hailed as an African success story – is hoping the De Beers shift will help it boost skills and develop as a diamond hub that will attract a growing traffic of buyers across Africa. While it may never outshine Antwerp, Dubai or Tel Aviv, Gaborone hopes it can carve out its own niche. Many question whether it can really change the structure of an industry where most of the resources are in Africa but most of the value is generated elsewhere, and whether its strategy is good preparation for life after diamonds, as the mines age. Thanks to improvements in technology used in cutting and polishing and increased efficiency, Botswana has lowered its costs to compete, for larger stones at least, with India. But Tannenbaum says productivity still lags behind, making margins difficult for smaller gems, where the cost of cutting and polishing can make up a larger percentage of the final price. “It will take time for the more difficult material – it took India 40 years,” he said.