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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Secret London tunnels up for sale

London Underground

A network of tunnels beneath the streets of London is being put on the market by British telecom operator BT. The potential uses for the tunnels--from concept-hotel, to office space, to a museum--are many, but the price remains unknown.

Secret London tunnels
The Kingsway Tunnels were built in 1940 as deep air-raid shelters and have since been used as a 'reserve war room', public record library and the telephone exchange which connected the Cold War hotline between the presidents of the US and USSR. Foto: AP

For sale: A labyrinth of bombproof tunnels hidden about 100 feet (30 meters) beneath central London. Great location, mysterious past. And the price tag? Well, that's a secret.

The Kingsway Tunnels, originally built in 1942 to protect Londoners from German air raids, are being put up for sale by their current owner, telecommunications company BT Group PLC.

"We're looking for a purchaser with the imagination and stature to return the tunnels to productive use,“ said Elaine Hewitt, who heads BT's property division."The site has a fantastic history and, now that we have no requirement for it for telecommunications use, it is right that we should offer it to the market. Here's hoping it has a fantastic future as well.“

The tunnels, which are about a mile (more than a kilometer) long, were taken over by Britain's foreign intelligence agency MI6 in 1944. The Guardian newspaper said a section of the spy agency known as the Inter Services Research Bureau used the tunnels until May 8, 1945, when it stripped them clean, leaving a question mark over the exact nature of its underground activities.

Foto: AP

An undated photo shows the Kingsway Tunnel telephone exchange. The Kingsway Tunnels in central London are to be put up for sale by their owners.

BT said the tunnels were then used by the government's Public Record Office to store some 400 tons (363 metric tons) of "highly sensitive documents“ before the tunnels became the property of Britain's Post Office – which at the time ran Britain's telephone network and used the site as a telephone exchange to connect long distance calls.

It was through this reinforced warren that the 1960s hot line connecting the leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union was routed. By the 1980s, when it became the property of BT, it housed secure data backup services and served closed circuit television cameras.

BT spokeswoman Gemma Thomas said Saturday that the company no longer needed the tunnel because the Internet was cutting down on the need for telephone exchanges. She said restrictions on the tunnels' use meant they could not be converted into a cool new concept hotel, an underground office or a subterranean home. BT suggested they might be suitable for government use or for a major corporation.

Thomas refused to reveal was BT was hoping to get from the tunnels' sale.


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