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  • Aug 2, 2014
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DIPLOMACY

British envoy's pricey Hong Kong home 'goes over the top'

Consul-general Caroline Wilson lives Hong Kong's most expensive apartment block

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 2:06pm

Britain's new consul-general has moved into Hong Kong's most expensive apartment block - giving her the grandest home of any British envoy in the city since Chris Patten left Government House 16 years ago.

Caroline Wilson lives in an apartment that takes up the entire third floor of Opus, the new 12-storey Swire development on Stubbs Road where a higher floor was sold for HK$455 million, making it the world's second most expensive flat.

Wilson's move comes at a time when London's Foreign and Commonwealth Office is slashing mission costs after its budget was cut from £1.6 billion (HK$19.3 billion) to £1.36 billion.

The British consulate refused to say how much rent it was paying for the residence, but a duplex unit in the same block was provisionally leased for HK$850,000 a month last year before the tenant pulled out of the deal.

Cambridge-educated Wilson, a barrister and a rising star in the diplomatic service, took over as consul-general in October after a four-year stint as trade envoy in Moscow.

Some [expats] say ... we're keeping up appearances. Others think it's over the top
British Chamber of Commerce member

Her four-bedroom apartment in the Frank Gehry-designed block has floor-to-ceiling windows and commands 360-degree views of Victoria Harbour and Mount Cameron.

A veteran British Chamber of Commerce member remarked: "Caroline is a first-rate consul-general and this decision would have been taken by someone high up in London. But it does seem an odd decision in these times of austerity back home.

"Expatriates are split on the matter. Some say they're proud we're keeping up appearances. Others think it's over the top for a British diplomatic residence."

A British consulate spokeswoman said: "We can't disclose the rental rate, which is subject to a commercial confidentiality agreement."

We can't disclose the rental rate,
British consulate

Asked how the spending was justified when cheaper luxurious properties were available, she said: "The residence is much more than the consul general's home. It is an important resource used to support our many priorities in Hong Kong.

"[The apartment] is used as a platform for entertainment and hospitality ... Since April, we have hosted 24 events attended by almost 450 guests; provided overnight accommodation for eight official guests, including two ministers, and promoted the interests of a wide range of British businesses."

A Swire Properties spokeswoman declined to reveal whether the consulate had been given a reduced rate for the residence.

 

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16

This article is now closed to comments

bluefirestorm
360 views of Mount Cameron might lead to 360 views by David Cameron when he spins to understand how on earth such luxury is heaped on a consul general.
John Adams
I walk past the UK Consulate every day on my way to work and often ask myself "what on earth do they do in that huge building there? "
But on the other hand, I wonder what any of these consulate-staff do these days except go to each other's cocktail parties.
As a HK director of a publicly- listed company based in a leading European country I cannot even call anyone in that country's consulate about a travel visa for my Chinese fiancee . When I managed to get through to someone / anyone after numerous phone calls the other day the consulate staff tell me that there's no point to call in the morning because "anyone who is anyone in the visa section only pick up the phone in the late afternoon (if at all) "
captam
How kind of Swire to reduce the rent. Keep an eye on the next Queen's Birthday Honours list (due to be released anytime now) or perhaps the next New Year's list.
Don't be surprised if one or two John Swire & Sons directors get a gong or two. That's how the system works.
layleng
That's pretty much standard operating procedure for the heads of British institutions in Hong Kong isn't it? The ESF's assets include stand-alone houses in Clearwater Bay, Shouson Hill, Redhill and other luxury residential areas for its Chief Executive, officers and Principals. So why should we expect the Chief Brit to live in less?
Anebbs
So we have this grossly expensive flat for our Consul General, the largest UK Consulate in the world, and we cannot even issue a simple visitor's visa on site without sending the applicant's passport off to Manila for processing. Well at least now I know where my inflated passport fee is going.
ed_kwok
Obviously they are not paying $850K. Looks like Swire cut them a sweet deal. Makes perfect sense for all concerned.
shuike
Same terms like those for Donald Tsang's Shenzen's suite & like him, she got caught out. Everything is about money & there are just as many bribe takers as there are in the mainland if you look deep enough.
impala
This is outrageous. With all the austerity going on in the UK, this is an insult to the British taxpayer, not to mention the kind of message it sends to Hong Kong.

The consul-general in Hong Kong these days is at best a mid-level post, not all that senior. Economically there is some significance in UK-HK ties, but diplomatically it has become all but irrelevant, with the UK embassy in Beijing being the centre of gravity for relations between the UK and China.

Sure, the consul-general needs a respectable residence. She needs to receive guests, entertain and so on. But even if we conservatively assume the rent for this flat is 'only' 400,000 HKD, she could have gotten a very, very, very nice place of many, many, many square foot elsewhere on The Peak for half of this.

This development is ultra-luxury. It is the kind of place specifically developed for people who have so much money, they just don't care anymore about price tags. They just want comfort, prestige and the best of everything. And good for them. But not on taxpayer's money please.

At any point above HKD 300k per month Ms Wilson's MONTHLY rent will be well higher than the ANNUAL income of the average Brit. Assuming a 30% income tax burden, that means that there will be >35 people paying taxes in the UK just to pay for Ms Wilson's rent. Parasitic.

While it is ridiculous that foreign office budgeting allows for this, Ms Wilson should have known better herself as well. A grave error of judgement.
XYZ
JVE makes an excellent point: a suitable free-standing house on the Peak with considerably more space and cachet than a 6,000 sq. ft. flat on the third floor of an apartment building could probably be had on a long-term lease for no more than $400,000 per month. It's difficult to see the rationale for renting at The Opus unless Swires gave it to them for free, which I doubt, as they have public shareholders to answer to. I find it difficult to believe that HMG did not arrange for a post-handover permanent residence for the British Consul General. What happened?
impala
Indeed. The previous consul residence, on the already not-so modest Mt Kellett Rd is estimated to have cost less than half of the rent of this Opus opulence. And it seemed to be doing the job just fine. It is hard to phantom the amount of arrogance a public servant must mount to say "austerity whatever, taxpayers who cares, let's go for something double the price this time around."

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