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Old Vauxhall MI5 spy school to be converted into luxury flats after sale

One Bessborough Gardens was bought by Firethorn Trust in an off-market deal and will be converted into apartments
One Bessborough Gardens was bought by Firethorn Trust in an off-market deal and will be converted into apartments

Property firm Firethorn Trust has purchased a landmark office in Vauxhall that was opened by the King and operated as an MI5 spy school for decades.

The 70,000 sq.ft. One Bessborough Gardens in Pimlico was acquired from Charles Street Building Group in an off-market deal for an undisclosed sum.

The building, located on Vauxhall Bridge Road, will now be transformed into a modern residential scheme with roughly 60 apartments.

The striking white building was developed by Wimpy Homes and the Crown Estate in 1988 to reflect the area’s distinct architectural characteristics thanks to the legacy of master builder Thomas Cubitt.

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It was opened by HRH King Charles III when he was Prince of Wales and was then occupied by a government agency for two decades.

While it was never confirmed, it was rumoured to operate as an MI5 spy school between completion and 2022. It has a direct line of sight with the MI6 headquarters on the south bank of the Thames.

In 2005, the government applied to the City of Westminster Council for planning permission to install several satellite dishes, security gates, and a backup generator.

It was going to be upgraded into luxury offices before Firethorn snapped up the four-story property for residential purposes.

The deal is the second purchase made by Firethorn Trust’s new residential division and its first in the capital.

The new offering will specialise in buy-to-let and student accommodation. Earlier this year it bought a purpose-built student site in Edinburgh.

Marcus Weeks, director and head of living at Firethorn Trust, said of the deal: “One Bessborough Gardens presented a strategic opportunity for us to create a unique residential offering at a time of limited supply to the market and increased demand.

“This is a fantastic addition to our growing living portfolio, at a scale and quality that not only reflects our ambition to become leaders in the Living markets, but represents our genuine passion for creating modern spaces that have a positive impact on people and places.”

It’s understood that repurposing the building into apartments does not have planning permission from City of Westminster Council.

However, Firethorn is hoping to convert it under a permitted development plan, which allow for a the improvement of a home without the need to apply for planning.

Work on the sight is expected to start in 2025 and complete the following year.

Matthew Allen, a principal at Addington Capital, which advised Firethorn on the transaction, commented: “Supporting Firethorn on the conversion of One Bessborough Gardens into a residential scheme is a significant project for us in prime Central London. The building has great conversion credentials.”