High commissioner paying $7500-a-week rent

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 10:43 24/05/2013
40 Clareville St, London
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Lockwood Smith is living in rented digs at a cost of $7500 a week, as the Government plans to sell its swanky high commissioner's residence in London.

The former Speaker arrived to take up the high commissioner post in February after nearly three decades as an MP.

He has settled into diplomatic life well, flamboyantly hosting functions and having an audience with the Queen.

But instead of moving into the plush Clareville St high commissioner's property in the upmarket suburb of Kensington, he has been staying in leased accommodation in the same neighbourhood.

The cost was £4000 (NZ$7500) a week, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said yesterday.

"London has some of the most expensive property in the world and the cost of the lease is in line with what you would expect to pay for properties in that area, " he said.

The spokesman said the accommodation was used for a range of functions as well as being Dr Smith's home and confirmed Dr Smith was not offered the official high commissioner's residence.

That was because "prior to his taking up his appointment the decision was made to sell the property rather than undertake the refurbishment that would be needed in the near future".

The property did not form part of the ministry's long-term plans for the post, he said.

The ministry was also deciding what to do with New Zealand House, the 18-storey building in central London which the Government has under lease until 2048.

The office building, which houses the high commission and other government agencies, needs substantial repairs. Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully last year put a planned $2 million upgrade on hold following budget cuts within the ministry.

It is understood officials are considering turning the top floor of NZ House into a penthouse apartment for the high commissioner, and the spokesman said Dr Smith would live in leased premises until a decision was made.

Labour foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff said there was no reason Dr Smith could not stay in the high commissioner's house until it was sold.

"If they were intending to sell, then surely the high commissioner could live in the property pending the sale of the property and save taxpayers' money," he said.

The four-bedroom home, valued at £5.5m, was bought about 10 years ago under the former Labour government, while Goff was foreign minister.

He recalls staying there, and said it was suitable, modern and well presented.

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