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Somerset House Vaults

Volume 164: debated on Monday 18 December 1989

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement concerning the sale of the Somerset house vaults to the Quill Group;(2) on what basis the Property Services Agency offered to rent vaults under Somerset house for £200 per annum or to buy them for £50,000;(3) what guidance the London residuary body received from his Department concerning its future requirements for storage within the vaults below Somerset house;(4) when he intends to reply to letters concerning the sale of the Somerset house vaults from the hon. Member for Dagenham, the Quill Group and Mr. Ian Walmsley;(5) whether the London residuary body made any efforts to sell the vaults below Somerset house before offering them at auction;(6) which officials of the Property Services Agency represented the Agency at the two auctions involving vaults beneath Somerset house;(7) why his Department withdrew access to vaults below Somerset house from representatives of the Quill Group;(8) why officials of the Inland Revenue's accommodation department reversed an earlier assurance that they had no objections to the Quill Group obtaining access to vaults below Somerset House.

[holding answer 7 December 1989]: I understand that the Quill Group were the successful bidders at an auction in September, but failed to complete the contract with the London residuary body. No guidance was issued by my Department in connection with this sale.In accordance with their normal practice for the disposal of surplus property the London residuary body entered into discussions with the occupying tenant. The Government have held a lease of these vaults for over 80 years. The Property Services Agency acts on my behalf as tenants. The lease is governed by the Landlord and Tenant Acts and the rent, fixed in 1907, is £185 a year.In earlier negotiations with the London residuary body a PSA offer of £50,000 for the freehold interest was unsuccessful and both parties agreed that it would be in the best interests of both taxpayers and the London ratepayers, if the vaults were exposed for sale at public auction.Following their successful purchase at auction in September the Quill Group instructed agents to open negotiations with the PSA for a new lease, the 1907 lease now having expired, seeking a rent of £90,000 per annum.On being advised by the auctioneers that the vaults were to be auctioned again on 4 December, the PSA's professional decision as prudent managers of the Government Estate was to take this further opportunity to purchase and, on this occasion, it was successful.Both auctions were attended by the professional head of the estates services branch of the PSA's London region estates division, accompanied by a principal grade estate surveyor.

I am writing to the hon. Member explaining these complex matters more fully and I shall also send him a copy of the letter which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) sent to Mr. Harris of the Quill Group on 30 November.