Businessman refutes Chinese whispers

AN Essex businessman has angrily denied claims that the Chinese government is secretly involved in controversial plans for a 117-acre tourist attraction on the edge of the Stour Valley.

By Roddy Ashworth

AN Essex businessman has angrily denied claims that the Chinese government is secretly involved in controversial plans for a 117-acre tourist attraction on the edge of the Stour Valley.

Stephen Bunting, whose firm Bunting and Sons wants to create a “celebration of the English countryside” in Great Horkesley, went on to dismiss allegations that a reclusive Hong Kong tycoon also had an interest in the scheme.

He was responding to an article in a national Sunday newspaper that suggested millionaire Victor Hwang, whose company Parkview International has plans to redevelop Battersea Power Station, was involved in the proposal for the Essex development.


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Parkview International's chief executive, Michael Roberts, has spoken in favour of the scheme, which would include an “interactive interpretive experience” of the life and times of the artist John Constable.

But yesterday Mr Bunting said the expression of support was due to a business relationship that stretched back almost 15 years, to when Mr Roberts had a directorship in one of his companies.

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He added that although he had met Mr Hwang on one occasion, it was only to be introduced briefly in a corridor as the Hong Kong businessman left an office and he entered it.

Mr Bunting confirmed that part of the Horkesley Park development would include a small Chinese garden, but that this had nothing to do with Mr Hwang or Mr Roberts.

He also said that claims made by the newspaper alleging a Chinese construction firm had agreed to finance and build the garden were “absolute nonsense”.

He said: “Essex County Council are trying to stimulate international, cultural and trading links with the province of Jiangsu in China.

“They asked us if we were interested in including a Chinese element in what we were doing.

“As it happens, the first Chinese gardens came into this country during the Georgian period - the first was for the Prince Regent in Kew. These gardens were all around at the time of Constable.

“My ancestors started trading in the Far East and, right up into the Second World War, were importing lily bulbs.

“Two separate companies have been asked to come up for an idea in the Georgian Gardens we hope to create for a relatively small Chinese section, such as there might have been at that time.

“The whole suggestion that the Chinese Government or Mr Hwang is putting money into this is spurious and totally and utterly untrue.”

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Essex County Council confirmed that it had contacted Mr Bunting's firm regarding the possibility of the incorporation of a Chinese Garden into the Horkesley Park plans.

“We did approach the Horkesley Park team to see if they would be interested in the possibility of creating a Chinese garden as part of their proposals.

“It would only be a small part of the whole development and we do have strong links with China.

“We see this as about promoting investment and regeneration for the county.”

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