For sale: Wren pile, with views of river

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The Royal Naval College in Greenwich, containing Britain's finest collection of Baroque architecture, was put on the market by the Government yesterday after months of speculation about its future.

The leasehold on the college, for up to 150 years, will be auctioned in mid-1996, but strict development controls will ensure that it will not be sold merely to the highest bidder.

The college, which has one of the finest frontages on the Thames, will be sold only to a bidder who can guarantee the integrity of the site and maintain it. The bidder must also prove financial viability and ensure the public has access to the chapel and painted hall.

The site, owned by the Ministry of Defence on behalf of the Greenwich Hospital, housed a royal palace before being redesigned by Sir Christopher Wren as a seamen's hospital.

Many historians feared the college would be converted into a conference centre or hotel by a property developer when the Naval College moves to a new training centre in two years' time. The college, which has fallen victim to defence cuts, costs the Navy pounds 400,000 a year on rent, plus another pounds 1m for maintenance. The Department of National Heritage contributes another pounds 2m.

The hospital needs at least to maintain its pounds 400,000 income, 80 per cent of which subsidises its private school near Ipswich, with the rest going on sheltered housing for former seafarers. Dr Mungeam said the stringent conditions will limit the scope for the private sector.

The front-runner from the public sector is a joint bid by Greenwich University and the National Maritime Museum. The museum had expressed concern it would fall into the hands of a private developer.