Britain's billion pound property empire

Britain's billion pound property empire

- in Real Estate


The career diplomat Mr Phillipson can quietly relax in his Manhattan penthouse suite (Image: NC)

WHILE Parliament threatens to tear itself apart, Britain’s trade commissioner for North America Antony Phillipson is reaping the reward of a surprising Brexit dividend. Yes, he has a difficult job helping to put together a trade agreement with the United States but at least he can go about his business in some style. For his new £12million taxpayer-funded home is the entire 38th floor of 50 United Plaza, a gleaming 42-storey Norman Foster-designed block exuding power and wealth, next to the UN headquarters.

In its defence, the Foreign Office said: “We have secured the best possible deal and value for money on a property that will help promote the UK in the commercial capital of our largest export market and trading partner.”

In post-austerity Britain, where millions struggle to put food on the table, the Foreign Office has an international portfolio worth an estimated £2billion.

And all the signs are in the new Brexit world more money will be needed to buy new properties for diplomats and trade officials, and to keep our existing portfolio up to scratch.


The career diplomat Mr Phillipson can quietly relax far from the madding crowd in the comfort and luxury of his Manhattan penthouse suite offering spectacular views over the New York skyline.

In his 74-foot living area, he can comfortably stretch his legs while perhaps tuning into the Parliamentary channel to watch the Commons’ dogfight over Brexit and count his blessings.

The 42 square metre master bedroom has three walk-in wardrobes so Mr Phillipson is spoilt for choice when deciding where to put his silk ties.


The ultra exclusive Opus Hong Kong building (Image: Ho Nin Wu/Getty Images)


Six years ago eyebrows were raised when Caroline Wilson, our then consular general in the former British colony of Hong Kong, moved into a four-bedroom flat in the ultra exclusive Opus Hong Kong building.

The value of the apartment was put at £35million but that could have increased to £50million at today’s prices.The flat comprises the entire third floor of the complex and the Foreign Office was paying a reported eye-watering rent of £60,000 a month.

The investment website Worth said the building, designed by architect Frank Gehry, was one of the 10 coolest places to live in the world. It is now home to our consular general Andrew Heyn and the Foreign Office insists it is used for many official engagements and is good value for the money spent.

The Foreign Office doesn’t give detailed breakdowns of running costs but a figure of almost £9million came out with a Freedom of Information request for the years 2015-2016.


Georgian-style British Embassy in Washington (Image: Alex Wong/Getty Images)


The British Embassy sits in the exclusive Embassy Row area and was designed by the celebrated 20th-century architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. Built in 1928 in the style of a Georgian country manor and set in eight acres of superbly manicured lawns, it could be worth as much as £80million on the open market and costs £16million a year to run. Although to the casual observer it looks in good condition, the Foreign Office announced a £55million refurbishment last year to include the 6,000 square metre Ambassador’s Residence. At the end of the work Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch will have much to talk about to his guests about the lavish improvements.


Last year our embassy buildings had an £8million refurbishment. Again, no expense was spared. The Hôtel de Charost has been the official ambassadorial residence in France since 1814, on the chic rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, which shares a postcode with the Élysée Palace, home of the French president. Built in 1720, the residence was bought by the Duke of Wellington in 1814 for £35,000 and still boasts some of its original furniture.


Our Paris embassy has exclusive postcode (Image: ETIENNE LAURENT/AFP/Getty Images)


Visitors to the former British Embassy in Moscow were knocked out by its striking Gothic interior.

The Queen even described it as the “most beautiful residence in the world”, and she knows an awful lot more than most about the look of buildings.

But that was changed for a modern riverside replacement opened in 2000 by Princess Anne at a cost of £81million.

It was designed by Ahrends, Burton & Koralek and costs up to £10million a year to run.

But is said to lack the traditional charm of the previous embassy that had so impressed the Queen.


The British Embassy in Moscow (Image: Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images)


Our embassy in the Afghanistan capital Kabul may not be worth much in terms of real estate but it tops the list as the most expensive to run – the annual bill was £31,614,000 three years ago.


Our ambassador’s residence comes with a bill of £18,421,000 a year. The Foreign Office declined to give any details of the property in the Chaoyang district, which oozes wealth with high end businesses and international luxury hotels.

But renting a flat in this exclusive area would cost £30,000 a month. The embassy consists of two pink houses set in walled gardens.

Full diplomatic relations with China were established in 1972, 22 years after Britain’s formal recognition of the new regime.

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