Start of a new diplomatic quarter?

The new US Embassy in Nine Elms may attract other diplomatic missions to relocate to the regenerated area in Battersea © KieranTimberlake/studio amd

News that the Dutch Embassy is moving to Nine Elms, site of the new US Embassy, has raised the prospect that the development south of the River may become London’s newest diplomatic quarter.

In a snap Embassy poll, 50 per cent of diplomats said the area had the potential to be a new diplomatic district. This is up from survey responses in 2010 when only 34 per cent thought the new US Embassy would be a pull factor for other diplomatic missions.

The Chinese Embassy is also reported to be interested in relocating to Nine Elms and of those who responded to the survey, at least another three missions are planning to relocate and would consider Nine Elms a possible new home. Reasons cited were lack of space and soaring property prices in central London.

A large majority (80 per cent) said a new diplomatic quarter in Nine Elms would be beneficial to the diplomatic corps, offering larger, affordable space, more parking and less congestion.

Of the 20 per cent of detractors, one remarked that another diplomatic quarter south of the River would result in the further dispersal of missions and “less contact between diplomats”. Others were sceptical about transport links and worried that the area may not be an attractive working environment.

Those not planning a move either owned their buildings or were satisfied with their facilities. “Belgravia is best,” said one Ambassador whose mission is on the flag-lined square.

But as leases come up for renewal in leafy areas such as Kensington Palace Gardens, property prices may force some to move.

Already there has been a spate of embassy relocations in central London as missions either outgrow their properties, seek better value for money or rationalise their property portfolio to raise revenue.

The trend is to move to larger properties which house the chancery as well as large trade, cultural and consular sections. Brazil, Algeria, Lithuania and the Philippines have moved, while Canada is planning to sell its mission on Grosvenor Square and consolidate its presence around Trafalgar Square. The sale of the residence of the Greek consul general could earn the Greek government £20 million.

A debate is raging in Nepal over possible plans to sell its property on Kensington Palace Gardens. It leases the property at a very reduced rate as a token for the Gurkhas service to the UK. However, a committee set up by the Nepalese Government in 2008 estimated that undertaking essential repairs to the building, which is part of the lease agreement with the Crown Estate, would cost £4.5 million.

A task force recently visited London to investigate the possibility of selling the property, which could be worth as much as £153 million.

The local Nepalese Gurkha community is protesting the move, saying the mission is a symbol of British-Nepalese ties. Some Gurkhas have offered to contribute part of their pensions to pay for the upkeep of the mission.