Preston’s political leaders are considering whether to form a new ‘twinning’ agreement with the Chinese city of Xining.
A group of Chinese businesspeople from the province of Qinghai in western China have visited Lancashire to meet the Mayor of Preston, Coun Veronica Afrin, along with key officers from Preston Council and Lancashire County Council.
The delegation of wealthy investors came to look at plans for an £18m luxury student accommodation project in Friargate and to discuss investment opportunities in Preston.
Portergate Property Management has already received planning permission for the development, which aims to take students attending the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) from 2014-15.
However, the dignitaries also used the meeting to talk about the possibility of setting up an “economic and educational” partnership between the two cities.
Coun Afrin said: “The meeting went very well. We had people from the university there and the head of regeneration from the city council, and then they went to speak to Lancashire County Council afterwards.
“This is a very good opportunity. The two cities have got quite a lot in common, although Xining is obviously much bigger than Preston, because they have nearly 2.2 million people.
“I think this is quite exciting for the future if we decide to be twinned with them.
“We wouldn’t be twinned like with the other towns after the war, it would be twinning in a more economic and educational way, communicating hopefully with video link activity, rather than by travelling.
“They have quite a big university there, so I think for UCLan there are some exciting possibilities.”
Twinning of towns began after the Second World War to help rebuild links between European countries, with a focus on social and cultural bonding.
Today some twinning links are more technical, with the emphasis on exchanging information rather than people.
Preston first twinned with Almelo in the Netherlands in 1948. Its twin towns then grew to include Nimes in France in 1955, Recklinghausen in Germany in 1956, and finally Kalisz in Poland in 1989.
The first three cities were chosen on a like-for-like basis of population, ethnicity and employment sectors.
The Polish ‘twin’ was created so officers from Preston could support and encourage the economy of Kalisz.
Preston Council’s leader Peter Rankin planned to meet the delegation when they were originally due to visit the city last month, but had to cancel their trip due to Visa problems.
Coun Rankin, who was unable to attend the rearranged meeting, said any partnership would be different to the twinning deals of the past, and council chiefs and officers would not be visiting China at the taxpayer’s expense.
He said: “We made a decision some time ago that the only way we would twin with any other kind of city is if it was a virtual twinning, so there would be no question of our people going out to China if we did complete any agreement, although they would be welcome to come here.
“We need to explore who they are in more detail and the benefits of any virtual twinning.”
UCLan was the first UK university to establish a joint programme with a Chinese partner university in 1993.
Currently more than 1,000 Chinese students are studying on UCLan programmes in China, while a further 1,000 Chinese students are studying on UCLan programmes in Preston.
UCLan’s key strategic partners in China are based in Beijing, Guangzhou, Hebei and Shanghai.
A UCLan spokesman said: “The university has been working in partnership with China’s universities and educational institutions for more than 20 years.
“We were delighted to play a part in welcoming the Qinghai delegation to Preston and, although it’s early days, we would welcome the opportunity to extend our collaborative educational network into the Qinghai region.”
Portergate plans to provide apartments for 261 students on a one-acre site in Great Shaw Street, involving six or seven storey housing blocks.
A team from the firm, led by chairman Anthony Jackson, visited the Overseas Property Investment Show in Shanghai, China, earlier this year and returned with major expressions of interest from investors.