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Foreign Office to give up historic Whitehall building

Move aimed at saving cash as UK government sells off diplomatic properties

We keep all our property assets under constant review to ensure that they provide value for money

Foreign Office spokesman

Government cost-cutting is to lead the Foreign Office to quit its historic grade-II listed building in Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall. Its decision raises the prospect that it will sell the £57 million property in central London, the Old Admiralty Building.

And, despite a worldwide property slump, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is also selling a raft of its overseas buildings to cut costs.

But the Foreign Office’s exit from the Victorian property that once housed the authority responsible for the Royal Navy, the Admiralty, will be symbolic of the government’s retrenchment as the UK tries to curb its growing debt.

The Old Admiralty Building, or Admiralty Extension, is one of two properties owned by the Foreign Office in London.

A spokesman for the department said: “Over the next two years, the Foreign Office plans to move to a single site in London and give up our offices in the Old Admiralty Building.

“We have no current plans to sell the Old Admiralty Building. However, like all government departments, we keep all our property assets under constant review to ensure that they provide value for money for the taxpayer and that they meet our operational needs.”

The Foreign Office valued the property in 2010 at £57 million. Located at the opposite end of the Horse Guards Parade from the Foreign Office headquarters in King Charles Street, the Old Admiralty Building represents close to a quarter of the value of the department’s estate in the UK. The building, of red brick and white stone, is the largest in the government-owned Admiralty complex, which was built from the 18th century onwards.

It houses a wide range of departmental units in a property of 13,000 square metres, which is a third of the size of the Foreign Office headquarters. The Old Admiralty Building is not to be confused with its neighbour, the grade-I listed Admiralty Building – owned by the Cabinet Office – which is older and referred to as the ‘Old Admiralty’.

The extension dates from the late 19th to early 20th century and was redesigned while being built to accommodate extra offices for the naval arms race with the German Empire.

The Admiralty complex includes the grade-I listed Admiralty Arch, close to Trafalgar Square. The government confirmed last month that Admiralty Arch had been put on the market for £75 million.

The sale of Admiralty Arch was first raised 15 years ago. However, John Major, the then prime minister, was so shaken by the furore over the sale of the Old Royal Naval College in London’s Greenwich that he decided to find a government use for Admiralty Arch.

The late Lord Hill-Norton, then admiral of the fleet and chief of the defence staff, at the time described Admiralty Arch as a crucial part of Britain's maritime heritage. Referring to the then defence secretary, Michael Portillo, he famously said that he thought that even “a little creep like Portillo” would understand this.

At the public-property summit last month, Stephen Lovegrove, chief executive of the Shareholder Executive, a unit at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills that has responsibility for managing government assets, confirmed the sale of Admiralty Arch.

He said that the government was “cautious” about the sale of its properties because of the sharp fall in commercial values in recent years. Instead, he said, it is focussing on cutting operating costs and that civil servants have moved out of 36 properties in central London since the general election last year, saving more than £90 million.

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