FCO defends purchase of £12m New York penthouse

Department says ‘starchitect’-designed residence for consul general will help promote British business

50 United Nations Plaza, pictured to the right of the illuminated Chrysler Building. Photo: 50UNP

By Jim.Dunton

29 Mar 2019

The Foreign Office has insisted that the purchase of a £12m luxury penthouse in New York for the British consul general represents “value for money” and will boost UK business.

Property tax documents published this week revealed that the government had bought the entire 38th floor of 50 United Nations Plaza in Manhattan, designed by Lord Norman Foster’s architecture firm Foster + Partner.

The seven-bedroom, six-bathroom condominium will be the new home for UK trade commissioner for North America and consul general in New York, Antony Phillipson.


The purchase has attracted criticism from Labour MP Gareth Thomas, a special adviser to Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, and campaign group the TaxPayers Alliance – all of whom contrasted domestic austerity with lavish living for ex-pat public-sector workers in North America.

But the FCO said the US$15.9m purchase – which prompted real estate taxes of around US$450,000 (£343,000 at today’s exchange rate) – would support post-Brexit trade and replace the consul general’s current residence.

“We have secured the best possible deal and value for money on a property that will help promote the UK in the commercial capital of our largest export market and trading partner,” a spokesperson said.

“As well as being the consul general’s residence, it will also be used to support his work to help British businesses as Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for North America. We are in the process of selling the consul general’s current residence.”

CSW asked the FCO whether the sale of the existing residence would result in a net gain after the purchase of the 50UNP penthouse, but the department had not answered at the time of publication.

In 2017, the FCO completed a deal to sell the British Embassy compound in Bangkok in what the FCO’s most recent annual report described “the biggest land deal in Thai history”.

It said the move had raised £426m for “reinvestment in the FCO’s estate”, which would pave the way for “30 to 40 major long-planned estates projects” to commence and for it to “continue to update and modernise our global estate”.

December’s cross-government State of the Estate report said the FCOs overseas estate comprised 265 buildings described as “offices and embassies”.

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