A decade into a debate on ways to restore the Palace of Westminster, the grand and good greyheads in charge will be gratified to learn the passage of time has opened up a new decant option. Room enough for 1,500 displaced parliamentary staff will become available at 7 Millbank in two or three years.

Peter Bill

Spooks at M15 will presumably be aware that when the knackered Westminster House – the stone and now-rusting steel offices built in 1915 for British American Tobacco – is rebuilt, it could also be used to house more spies, down the road from their present HQ.

Few outsiders have been aware until this week of the £160m plans to gut and rebuild one of the only privately owned blocks on Millbank. The restoration will provide 130,000 sq ft of space behind rebuilt facades. Last week, the Make Architects scheme surfaced on Westminster City Council website.

The plans promise to be ‘net zero carbon’, meaning not using skimpy materials that need replacing after 25 years. Make promise to specify materials that last as long as the originals. Bravo.

The owner of this semi-mysterious development is listed as Virgin Islands-registered Baola Properties. Who? You hit a blank screen on the island of Tortola when attempting to find the folk with the money.

Millbank scheme

State secret: refurbished 7 Millbank could house M15 or parliamentary staff 

The spooks will already know, we hope. This is a very sensitive area. You can’t just have any old developer working two blocks away. There are no clues as to who owns Baola in the planning documents.

But a clue emerges in one document showing Old Park Lane Management is involved. A guess then becomes easy. Old Park Lane is a respectable vehicle run by the extremely respectable Tim Sketchley, late of Cushman & Wakefield, for the very private Kadoorie family and it’s 80-year-old paterfamilias Sir Michael Kadoorie.

In February 2020, Old Park Lane pre-let 300,000 sq ft to Linklaters at 20 Ropemaker in the City. This time, the occupants of the rebuilt Westminster House are most likely to serve government, either overtly or covertly. The latter, perhaps, if the grand and good greyheads continue to dither on decant options for another five years.

Harry’s gift

A 2019 attempt to write a book on Harry Hyams came to nothing. I do have something to say now, though. But first, for younger readers, Hyams, who died in 2015 aged 87, famously developed CenterPoint, built by George Wimpey in the 1960s. In 1964, Harry paid £650,000 for Ramsbury Manor in Wiltshire.

My interest stems from visiting Ramsbury regularly in the 1970s. My job at George Wimpey was to tot up the maintenance costs we incurred. Harry was a director. It was all above-board, no story here. There is a never-written story of workers tending the estates of other directors for free….

Moving on: Harry left his £487m estate in trust, to be used to refurbish the Queen Anne manor and display his collection of ceramics and art. With the help of former Landsec boss Ian Henderson, I ‘reached out’, in that dreadful phrase, to the trustees. Back came a very polite message essentially saying they would prefer a coffee table book by an antiques expert, rather than some property hack explaining the financial mechanics of why he held back on renting space at CenterPoint during a period of rising rents.

The trustees — surgeon, professor and peer Lord Ajay Kakkar, and Goodman Derrick lawyer Diana Rawstron — have set restoration work under way to turn the manor into a display case for Harry’s art and ceramics collection.

The just-released accounts for the year to April 2020 show their value for the first time to be £180m: £135m for the art, £37m for the ceramics and £8m for boy-toy boats and cars.

The history of Harry Hyams needs rewriting. Not by me. This is a man who made money from developing to buy art. Not a man who bought art from money he made from being a developer.

Peter Bill is a journalist and the author of Planet Property and Broken Homes