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.