A palace fit for a pensioner (if rich)

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The Independent Online
A Select few of the richest old people in the land may soon be able to spend their twilight years in sheltered accommodation on the top floor of a royal palace with an unsurpassed view of the Thames. It is one of the options being urgently debated for the future of the space above the King's Apartments at Hampton Court Palace, empty and unused since the state rooms themselves were restored following the major fire in 1986.

The third floor, looking out over the newly restored Privy Garden, used to be divided into grace-and-favour apartments, given rent-free to the widows of distinguished military men and public servants. It was in one of them that the fire began. But grace and favour are unfashionable in the 1990s; so Robin Evans, director of Historic Royal Palaces, the body that administers the property, is being urged by the Government to find a revenue-earning use for the space.

His options are limited by the need not to interfere with the palace's main function as a historic building that attracts 600,000 paying visitors a year. "We must not have any use that affects the visitors' enjoyment," he says.

Another inhibiting factor is the lift, which can carry only four people. Installing a new one would mean hacking away at the state rooms below. For the same reason, no major structural alterations can be envisaged. That rules out such potentially profitable uses as a super-luxury small hotel and restaurant or a suite of prestige high-tech offices - although one of the possibilities is to let out some of the rooms for small business gatherings, exploiting the palace's proximity to Heathrow airport. The rooms would make a fine suite of top-flight apartments, but anyone who could afford to rent them would demand generous parking space - in short supply at Hampton Court - and would entertain lavishly and often. That is the appeal of making flats available only to elderly people, who have few cars and do not give many parties. There would be room for up to a dozen apartments, plus any necessary medical facilities. A final decision will be taken next year.