Central Group, the biggest family-owned conglomerate in Thailand, has bought the remaining 23 rai (9 acre) plot of the British embassy in Bangkok for 20 billion baht. The successful bid means that the British government will net over 458 million pounds in the most expensive real estate deal in Thai history.
The same group ten years ago bought an initial 9.5 rai (3.8 acres) for 50 million pounds and built the luxurious Central Embassy which is likely to be linked to the much bigger area to create a mixed-use extravaganza including hotels, condos, shopping arcades and prestigious business premises.
Unless some private deal has been struck, the current embassy premises will be knocked down to make way for the mega-construction boom on Wireless Road, one of Bangkok’s most sought-after and expensive districts. Even familiar icons, such as Queen Victoria’s statue which survived the Japanese occupation in the early 1940s, will have to go.
Since the sell-off was long anticipated, the British outcry about the sale has been muted. In fact, very few embassy services to the public are based in the Wireless Road complex. Brits wanting to apply for a passport and Thais wanting a visa to visit the United Kingdom have long been registering at Trendy House facility on Sukhumvit Soi 11.
Public parties and receptions have not been held in the main embassy site for 14 years and few Brits have had cause to visit it, unless to obtain a notarial service such as an affidavit. In fact, several embassy services – such as the famous “proof” of income for the Thai retirement visa – are now available only by post.
Although some traditionalists feel that the sale has devalued the role of the UK in international affairs, it is also true that Britain’s influence in Southeast Asia has waned, even though economic and trade relations between Bangkok and London remain strong. The retreat of Britain on the world stage and the recent referendum to leave the European Union mean that the London government no longer needs the awe-inspiring building structures of yesteryear.
New premises for the British embassy have not yet been announced. One idea circulating is to make an expanded use of the rented office accommodation at Trendy House. In fact, many Bangkok-based embassies are now housed in high-rise buildings, partly for reasons of security. However, it would still be necessary to purchase or lease a suitable ambassadorial residence.
Pattaya-based Brits will not be affected by the sale as they are used to making the trek to Bangkok. The Jomtien consulate, strategically located near the Immigration Bureau, closed in a round of financial cuts in 2011 and was soon followed by the Chiang Mai closure. Centralization of staff in foreign capitals and a reduction in front-line services have become the hallmark of British government policy for embassies worldwide.
Barry Kenyon, the Pattaya-based British consular officer from 1998-2010, said, “British embassy staff have been at Wireless Road since 1922, so this is certainly the end of an era. But the sale is the right decision for the second decade of the 21st century. You often hear people say that Pattaya is changing, but let’s not forget that applies to Britain too, especially in the post-Brexit scenario which is now unfolding.”