British Ambassador Brian Davidson highlights that the building will be rebuilt and incorporated into the new mega-mall which will give the public in Thailand access to it for the first time in 100 years. It has been confirmed that two-ton bronze statue of Queen Victoria will also have pride of place.

There has been outrage in Thailand among UK expats at the demolition of the historic British Embassy in Ploenchit on Monday. It follows the sale of the 49,000 square metre site to the Central Group in January 2018 in what was then the biggest land sale in Thai history. The UK Foreign Office bagged nearly ฿16 billion from the transaction which was given the nod in 2017 under the stewardship of the then Foreign Secretary and now UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

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The UK Ambassador to Thailand Brian Davidson has been defending the decision to sell the British Embassy in Ploenchit after fury erupted on Monday when the historic building which had stood for nearly 100 years was demolished in hours to make way for a mega-mall being developed by the Thai Central Group (bottom right inset). It has emerged that the sale of the 49,000 square metre site bagged nearly ฿16 billion for the UK Foreign Office in what was the biggest site sale in Thailand’s history. The deal was approved in 2017 by now UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) The famous statue of Queen Victoria (inset with Ambassador Davidson), a landmark at the embassy site, is being preserved and will be incorporated again into the old structure when it is rebuilt as part of the new shopping mall.

The British Embassy in Bangkok has gone on the offensive after a barrage of criticism and outrage erupted in the last few days following demolition of the historic British embassy in Ploenchit, once also home to the British Legation before 1947. The building had been in use for nearly 100 years and to many UK expats living in Thailand and Bangkok particularly among those in the kingdom for quite some time, the actions of the Foreign Office in the affair represents ‘sacrilege’ to British heritage and tradition in Thailand.

Embassy buildings and land sold to Central Group headed by Thailand’s Chirathivat family

However, today the British Embassy was highlighting the commitment made by UK Ambassador Brian Davidson, as he explained in a sugar-coated PR video created on the eve of the departure from the old building and featured on the UK Embassy’s Facebook page, that the historical building will be rebuilt again by the new owners of the property as part of the huge mega-mall being developed by Thailand’s wealthy and successful Central Group owned by the Chirathivat family.

Decision to sell made by UK Foreign Office in 2017 – biggest land sale in Thai history at ฿16 billion

The decision to sell the embassy site and its contents was made by the UK Foreign Office in 2017. When it was inked in January 2018, it was announced as the biggest land deal in Thai history. The UK government received nearly ฿16 billion for the property. The sale was seen as so profitable by the UK government that it made plans to upgrade and refurbish other embassies around the world with the proceeds for the sale in Bangkok. The deal was highlighted as a coup by discreet sources in the aftermath of the outrage this week who let it be known that many parts of the old building were unfit for use as matters stood at the embassy before the deal came upon the horizon.

Boris was the man in charge and heralded a new age of modern accommodation

The man who oversaw the sale was current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his time as UK Foreign Secretary. At the time, Mr Johnson heralded a new age of modern accommodation for UK diplomats around the world. ‘Britain is a leading player on the global stage and I’m determined to ensure that our diplomats have all the necessary tools to do their job effectively,’ he said.

Described before the decision to sell as one Her Majesty’s most ‘spectacular’ overseas properties

The site in Ploenchit represented what was left of the original site developed in 1922 after an earlier sale of land again to the Central Group in 2006. The embassy was referred to prior to the decision to sell by the UK government, at one point, as one of the UK’s most ‘spectacular’ overseas properties serving the interests of the UK Foreign Office and the diplomatic corps. The site contained over 49,000 square metres of land including a tennis court, mature gardens, a swimming pool, residential accommodation for the ambassador and staff as well as working areas. All this in the heart of Bangkok overlooked by its most expensive shopping malls with tenants such as Hermes, Channel and Rolls Royce. The site had simply become too valuable not to sell.

UK expats in Thailand are less than happy

British embassy staff are now pointing out that new, modern offices will be open in Sathorn in 2020 but for now, UK expats are deploring the fact that the UK’s presence in the Kingdom of Thailand has been reduced to some floors of an ‘anonymous’ skyscraper building in the upmarket Sathorn area. They see it as further confirmation of the lowering of the United Kingdom’s status in the world.

Fears for Queen Victoria’s statue paid for in 1903 by expats in Siam allayed as it will  return

Of immediate concern to expats was the 2 tons of bronze comprising the statue of Queen Victoria, commissioned at the turn of the last century and finished in 1903, it came from the old embassy when the Ploenchit site opened in 1922. It was paid for by British expats in the old Kingdom of Siam. It had become a key focus of the original embassy building over the decades even visited and worshipped by local Thai people who saw Britain’s great Empress as a symbol of fertility and female power. 

However, it has been confirmed that it is being held by the Central Group and will be a key part of the rebuilt old building which will become a feature of the new shopping centre when it is built.

Demolition perfectly legal as the embassy was not a listed building in Thailand

This week, as the building was quickly demolished, it is understood that even some Thai government agencies were asking questions even though it is clear that the buildings were not protected under Thai law. This allowed its new owners to bulldoze the site without legal impediment allowing for construction of the new shopping mall to begin.

British embassy built in 1922 when the British Legation moved from Bang Rak to Ploenchit

The old UK embassy was built in 1922 and became home to the British Legation as it was then known. It had moved from an earlier site which now houses the Thai Central Post Office in Bang Rak. The first British Legation was established in Thailand in 1857.

Hosted Queen Elizabeth II together with King Rama IX on two occasions at the embassy

The famous building hosted Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh who were joined by King Rama IX and Queen Sirikit at the building on their visits to Thailand in 1972 and 1996. The Duke of Edinburgh stayed there in 1968 while in Thailand. 

UK embassy officials say it will be open to the public for the first time when the new mall opens

The embassy and its land were sold to a joint venture company called the Hong Kong Land and Central Group in January 2018. On Wednesday, the British ambassador highlighted that when the new shopping centre has opened, it will be the first time in 100 years that the public will have access to the old British embassy which will stand as a symbol of friendship between Thailand and the United Kingdom in the heart of Bangkok.

 

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