After the Jubilee Parade – Household Cavalry saying goodbye to Hyde Park
Even as millions watched the Household Cavalry escorting the Queen down the Mall during last week’s Jubilee celebrations, officials at the Ministry of Defence were finalising controversial plans to banish the Royal regiment to the fringes of London in a break with hundreds of years of tradition.
The MoD has confirmed details of ‘Project Rose’, the plan to sell the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (HCMR) barracks in Hyde Park – for anything up to £500m - and find a new home for them elsewhere in the capital.
The Household Cavalry Regiment (HCR), which comprises The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals have historically had a base less than a mile from Buckingham Palace, to be on hand to deal with any emergencies besetting the monarch.
Yet the MoD is now looking for alternative homes for its mounted division up to 2.5 miles away from nearby Horse Guards Parade, where members of the regiment take part in the Changing of the Guard every day.
A ‘pre-tender’ document published by the department a day after the HCMR took part in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations last week, declares that the regiment’s new home should be “within 35 mins ride (walk pace) of Horse Guards Parade, assessed as a maximum of 4 km distance by road”.
The 33-storey residential block at the heart of the complex was once voted one of the ugliest buildings in Britain. But its prestigious position in one of London’s most expensive areas has made it a uniquely saleable asset for a department struggling to stay within tight Government spending limits.
The news comes just days after Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced details of the “transformation” of the British Army, which will see its strength slashed from 102,000 to 82,000 and a greater reliance on part time soldiers and ‘contractors’. He admitted: “Some units inevitably will be lost or will merge. But let me be clear, we value the history and the heritage because they deliver tangible military benefits in the modern British Army.”
Even as millions watched the HCMR, which provides ceremonial troops for all state occasions, escorting the Queen down the Mall during last week’s Jubilee celebrations, MoD officials at the Ministry of Defence were finalising controversial plans – codenamed ‘Project Rose’ – to free up their 1.4 hectares (3.4 acres) of prime land between Knightsbridge & Hyde Park.
Officials have made it clear that the move is driven by a desire to make money from the sale of the barracks. The document, circulated among potential developers, states: “The aim of the project is to develop a commercial solution that will provide sustainable infrastructure for the HCMR and at the same time creating revenue from the release of the [Hyde Park] site.”
Interested companies have been told to respond by next month [20 July] according to the document, which confirms the MoD’s intention of “relocating the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (HCMR) from its current home of Hyde Park Barracks (HPB) to a new site in central London, which would then allow for the release of the HPB site”.
However, the MoD has warned would-be buyers that they will not be able to take over the present site until they have built a new home for the regiment elsewhere. Developers have been told that the site will need to be two hectares in size, large enough to house both an indoor and an outdoor riding school and “located within 1 km of park land, around which an all-weather horse exercise track will be required”.
The department has also raised the prospect of moving to an existing MoD site, potentially the Wellington Barracks or Regents Park Barracks, which would increase the profits raised from the deal.
Paul Howarth, of the MoD’s property and services provider, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), said: “We are constantly looking for ways of improving facilities for soldiers, but site limitations at Hyde Park Barracks restrict effective modernisation.
“We are considering options to address this and relocation of the HCMR is one option. It is essential that HCMR still remains in central London to enable participation in ceremonial and public duties.
Peter Burns, Executive Director at CBRE, which has been appointed as the MoD’s property advisor, said: “The opportunity that Hyde Park Barracks offers will generate interest from a wide variety of national and international developers. The market testing process is designed to help DIO formulate the most beneficial route to secure the goal of delivering best in class accommodation for the HCMR.”
Major General Sir Patrick Cordingley, Commander of the Desert Rats in the first Gulf War, said: “My initial reaction is that if you’re moving them four kilometres away that’s quite a hike in to carry out your ceremonial duties therefore one must assume the ceremonial duties will reduce in some respects and this is going to have a knock-on effect as far as tourism is concerned.
“My deep concern, my deep sadness is not actually a military one; it is purely a patriotic one of downgrading our ability to keep the tradition of this country going in London. It is being removed for the sake of quite a sizeable gain I’m quite certain but the knock-on effect as far as the traditions of this country are concerned is extremely sad, and particularly to announce it in the Jubilee year.”
Andy Smith, director of the UK National Defence Association, said: “This is the Government’s belated Jubilee message to Her Majesty: ‘We are moving your royal guards as far away from the royal palaces as we can get them!’
“It amounts to kicking out of their established home soldiers of the oldest and most revered regiments in the British army. It beggars belief that even this government, with its complete lack of empathy for the armed services or for British military traditions, could be cooking up an idiotic plan like this. It is an insult to soldiers past and present.
It also demonstrates that military funding priorities are being dictated by short-termism. It is nothing short of scandalous.”
Shadow Armed Forces Minister Kevan Jones said: “Just days after our armed forces have been showcased during jubilee celebrations the country will want assurances they are not losing out under a cost cutting exercise. We support modernisation but would be worried if new facilities were further away and less capable.”Tagged in: cavalry, household, hyde park
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter