Home of the Queen's cavalry to be sold off

Ministry of Defence hopes to make millions from disposal of prime Hyde Park barracks site

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The Independent Online

Britain's most recognised, and most photographed, regiments face leaving their traditional home for alternative accommodation under Government plans to sell off their barracks for hundreds of millions of pounds.

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed plans to sell the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (HCMR) barracks in Hyde Park after more than 200 years, and find a new home for them elsewhere in the capital.

The Household Cavalry, which comprises The Life Guards and The Blues & Royals, have historically been based less than a mile from Buckingham Palace, for ceremonial duties and to be on hand to deal with any emergencies besetting the monarch.

Yet the MoD is now looking for alternative homes for its mounted units up to 2.5 miles away from nearby Horse Guards Parade, where members of the regiment take part in the Changing of the Guard every day.

The 33-storey residential block at the heart of the complex was once voted one of the ugliest buildings in Britain. But its position in one of London's most expensive areas has made it a uniquely saleable asset for a department struggling to stay within tight government spending limits.

Even as millions watched the cavalry escort the Queen down the Mall during last week's jubilee celebrations, MoD officials were finalising plans – codenamed "Project Rose" – to free up the 1.4 hectares of prime land between Knightsbridge and Hyde Park.

Officials have made clear that the move is driven by a desire to make money from selling the barracks. The "pre-tender" document, circulated among potential developers, states: "The aim of the project is to develop a commercial solution that will provide sustainable infrastructure for the HCMR, at the same time creating revenue from the release of the site."

Interested companies have been told to respond by next month, according to the document, which confirms the MoD's intention of "relocating the HCMR from its current home of Hyde Park Barracks to a new site in central London, which would then allow for the release of the site".

The MoD has warned would-be buyers that they won't be able to take over the present site until they have built a new home for the regiment elsewhere. Developers have been told the site will need to be large enough to house an indoor and an outdoor riding school and "located within 1km of park land, around which an all-weather horse exercise track will be required".

The department has also raised the prospect of moving to an existing MoD site, which would increase the profits raised from the deal.

Paul Howarth, of the MoD's Defence Infrastructure Organisation, said: "We are constantly looking for ways of improving facilities for soldiers, but site limitations at Hyde Park Barracks restrict effective modernisation."

Major General Sir Patrick Cordingley said: "My deep concern, my deep sadness, is not actually a military one, it is purely a patriotic one, of downgrading our ability to keep the tradition of this country going in London. The knock-on effect, as far as the traditions of this country are concerned, is extremely sad, particularly in the jubilee year."

Andy Smith, director of the UK National Defence Association, said: "This is the Government's belated jubilee message to Her Majesty: 'We are moving your royal guards as far away from the royal palaces as we can get them!'

"It beggars belief that even this Government, with its complete lack of empathy for the armed services or for British military traditions, could be cooking up an idiotic plan like this."