China’s Fucheng Group has acquired a huge swathe of Melbourne’s western urban fringe after buying the last remaining parcel of the Baillieu family’s Woodhouse Station for about $100 million.The 4953-hectare rural property on Ballan Road near Melton was put up for sale two years ago by the Woodhouse Pastoral Company, whose shareholders include the Baillieus’ investment vehicle, Mutual Trust.
The trust was set up by patriarch William Lawrence Baillieu, who built the foundations for the family’s $568 million property fortune during the Melbourne land boom of the late 1880s.
Now amidst a new Melbourne land boom and the emergence of super-wealthy Asian land barons, the family has sold the remaining portion of Woodhouse Station to Fucheng Group, a privately owned company led by self-made Chinese agribusiness billionaire Li Fucheng.
A 1250-hectare portion of the original Woodhouse Station is under development as the Eynesbury Estate.
According to Forbes, Li Fucheng & Family are worth $US1.2 billion ($1.58 billion) with business interests spanning cattle breeding, beef processing, real estate and funeral services.
Last September, Fucheng Group acquired the 31,000-hectare cattle-fattening property Woodlands for $28 million from London-listed M.P. Evans, part of a wave of rural acquisitions by high profile Chinese groups.
Chinese-backed developers have also been active in Melbourne’s land market with Dahua and Ouson Group among those acquiring large parcels alongside deals by ASX-listed Peet and big private local players like Satterley Property Group and Central Equity.
Driving it all is population growth and forecasts that Melbourne will need to house an additional 3.4 million people over the next 35 years as its population grows to 7.7 million.
Eynesbury Station, Eynesbury.
Victorian valuer general Robert Marsh alluded to the $20,000 per hectare sale of Woodhouse Station recently saying it would not be worth “anywhere near that amount” based on its current use and labelled the Shire of Melton as “what [land] speculation looks like”.
The Baillieus bought Woodhouse Station in 1947 when it was a 7500-hectare cropping and grazing property.
A 1250-hectare portion is under development as the Eynesbury Estate with Malaysian-backed Hyde Property acquiring the remaining undeveloped portion of Eynesbury for $64.5 million from Woodhouse Pastoral Co and joint venture development partner Villa World last year.
The remaining 5000-hectare holding, 37 kilometres from the centre of Melbourne, was offered with a concept plan for a “knowledge city” built around education, food production and energy alongside the potential for future development of up to 20,000 residential lots.
Melbourne viewed from the station.
Now operating as a cropping and grazing property, Woodhouse Station was marketed by Frank Nagle and Andrew Egan of Biggin & Scott Land with KPMG’s Stephen So and James Brennan acting as transaction managers. All declined to comment.
The Australian Financial Review understands the acquisition has already been approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board.
Its present zoning allows for agricultural and conservation use with more than 1300 hectares to be acquired by the Victorian government for native vegetation offsets.