Its labyrinthine corridors were once stalked by Winston Churchill, who rubbed shoulders with the high-ranking naval officers that masterminded Britain’s involvement in the Battle of the Atlantic.
But despite being steeped in history, the Old Admiralty Building in Westminster may to be sold off by the Government, The Independent has learnt.
The historic building overlooking Horse Guards Parade could become the most significant casualty yet of the Cabinet Office’s drive to cut spending on central government offices, which cost £1.8bn a year to run.
The possibility of its future disposal was revealed in plans which are currently being considered for another Ministry of Defence (MoD) property, the neighbouring HMS St Vincent building.
The sprawling Old Admiralty Building has been home to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office since the 1960s.
It is the largest in the so-called “Admiralty complex” of buildings which includes Admiralty House and Admiralty Arch.
The sale would follow the £60m leasing of Admiralty Arch to Spanish investors last October, who plan to turn it into a luxury hotel.
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Secretary, said at the time the sale was part of an effort to offload the Government’s multi-billion pound property portfolio. Admiralty Arch is linked to the Old Admiralty Building by a walkway.
According to a “design and access statement” prepared for officers at Westminster City Council on behalf of the MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation – charged with the “strategic management” of Britain’s defence estate – the top-secret HMS St Vincent building needs a discreet, new entrance for its staff to “meet stringent security requirements” in Britain’s busiest tourist area.
The document added that “due to the uncertainty” around the future of the buildings, the separation of St Vincent from the Old Admiralty Building was seen as a “logical step” if the “disposal of the Old Admiralty Building was undertaken”.
The former First Sea Lord, Lord West, said: “I was very sad when the Admiralty Arch went. I know it’s a difficult time, but some of these buildings are part of our national history. We seem to be quite happy to flog off anything at the moment. I suppose if there is no use for the Old Admiralty Building then it is fine, but we seem to be on a slippery slope.”
Today, the MoD confirmed HMS St Vincent remained as part of its estate, but said the Old Admiralty Building was not.
A spokesman said: “The two share an entrance so we are putting in a separate entrance to St Vincent.”
An FCO spokeswoman said: “The Old Admiralty Building is owned freehold by HM Government and presently occupied by the FCO.”
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said that the Government had no plans to dispose of the building “at the moment”.
However, she added: “We are considering options for its use and are looking at what space we have.”