The establishment of a major new diplomatic quarter now looks almost certain with the Dutch government’s announcement it is moving its London embassy south of the river to Nine Elms. The US embassy is in the process of relocating from Grosvenor Square and the Chinese have started negotiations on a site near Vauxhall.
The Royal Kingdom of the Netherlands (RKN) has had an embassy at 38 Hyde Park Gate since 1953. Now, as part of cost cutting across its diplomatic service, the Dutch government is inviting offers for its 122-year-old red-brick property overlooking Kensington Palace and Hyde Park. An embassy spokesman added the building was “too big and not suitable for modern diplomacy”.
A new site in Nine Elms was purchased some years ago by a previous Dutch administration and a final decision on locating its embassy there has not yet been taken. In a statement, the country’s UK property advisers Cushman & Wakefield said: “One of the drivers for a relocation to Nine Elms was for the RKN to be part of the exciting regeneration and transformation of this area of London.”
Subject to planning approval, the 75,235sq ft Dutch embassy building could either be redeveloped into luxury apartments or office space to create a “super prime” central London address. As part of any sale, the purchaser would lease the property back to the Dutch government until 2018, when its Nine Elms embassy will be ready for occupation.
Work is already well underway on the £600m US “glass cube” embassy, slated for completion early in 2016. The development will anchor London’s “new South Bank” — stretching between Battersea and Vauxhall and including the £8bn Battersea Power Station scheme — and welcomed by the city’s mayor, Boris Johnson, as a “prestigious destination for international investment and development”.
The Chinese government is also known to be seriously considering a move from its Portland Place, West End, embassy to Nine Elms. Although several other sites were looked at by the Chinese, including Earl’s Court and Wapping, none were large enough to accommodate such a large diplomatic mission. The Chinese government is also known to be negotiating with the Royal Mail about taking part of the 13-acre South London Mail Centre site close to the new US embassy building.
According to an Embassy magazine poll 50 per cent of London-based diplomats admitted the Nine Elms area had the potential to become a significant diplomatic enclave. More than 80 per cent of those who responded said a move south of the river would offer larger more affordable space, greater parking opportunities and less congestion.
London is the home of more than 180 embassies and High Commissions, the majority centred on the West End and Belgravia, Kensington and Chelsea. Those not planning a move either own their buildings or were satisfied with their facilities. “Belgravia is still best”, said one Ambassador whose mission is on the flag-lined square.