Sunday 18 November 2018
Britain to sell off its prime acres in Thailand
By Sebastien Berger in Bangkok
12:01AM GMT 09 Feb 2005
To be sold: four acres of prime land in central Bangkok, currently occupied by one war memorial, some diplomatic buildings, and a historic flag pole. Estimated value: up to £30 million. Apply: HM Government, Whitehall.
The Foreign Office plans to place on the market one third of the British Embassy's grounds on a lush 12-acre compound in one of the most expensive districts of Bangkok.
Inside the grounds is a statue of Queen Victoria, "erected in loving memory by her subjects in Siam" in 1903. Many Thais regard Victoria as a fertility symbol and leave flower necklaces on the statue's plinth.
The sell-off plan follows an announcement in December that 30 smaller embassies and consulates in the Pacific, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are to be downgraded to divert funds to combat terrorism, weapons proliferation and global warming.
The Bangkok embassy, which was bought in the 1920s, has now become too valuable to keep, to the chagrin of some expatriates.
Writing to the English-language Bangkok Post newspaper, Simon Carpenter described the decision as one "to sell off the family silver".
"This is priceless real estate and an asset hard-earned by the previous generation," he said. "The British Government is not so poor it needs the money. What next, a skyscraper on Horse Guards Parade overlooking Downing Street?"
When the land was bought it was on the outskirts of the city and surrounded by paddy fields. After 80 years of urban growth it now stands at the corner of two roads packed with luxury hotels, offices, apartments and shopping centres.
Consultants have been brought in to put a price on the most expensive section of the plot, fronting Ploenchit Road, where two small colonial-style apartment buildings stand amid gardens and outbuildings on either side of a war memorial and the driveway to the ambassador's plush residence.
Some of the money will be spent on a 24-apartment block to be built in another part of the compound, sacrificing a tennis court and one third of a pond, and the rest will go towards premises in other countries.
"In this day and age when we are talking about value for money it is under-utilised," said an embassy official.
"The plan is that it will happen when the market is favourable for the sale," he said, adding that it could be worth "£20 million upwards".
The war memorial will be moved elsewhere within the compound, as will the statue of Queen Victoria which would otherwise find itself facing the back wall of whatever is built on the land. Efforts will also be made to preserve a huge steel flagpole, specially imported from Hong Kong in the 1890s at a cost of £500 - earning the then vice-consul a reprimand for unnecessary extravagance. Tim Maplethorpe, the chief executive of Bangkokproperty.com, a consultancy and agency in the capital, described the sale as "a shame", but suggested that it could fetch even more than the official's estimate.
"It's a prime location in an expensive area and the buyers could put a lot of buildings on it," he said.
He "wouldn't be surprised" if it sold for around £4 million an acre.
Another plot nearby sold for about double that when an international hotel chain decided that it wanted it at almost any price.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "The timing will depend on market conditions. When the time is right we will take the next step."
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