LONDON -– Scotland Yard wants to pull up stakes.
One of the world’s most famous police forces unveiled plans Tuesday to sell off its iconic office tower with the revolving “New Scotland Yard” sign out front, a well-known landmark seen in countless cutaway movie shots and tourist photo albums. London’s crime-fighters are hoping to move into new digs in a smaller building around the corner, closer to government offices.
The reason for the proposed relocation is elementary: to save money.
Times are tough in Britain, which is undergoing its most brutal spending cuts in at least a generation, and the capital’s famous black-hatted bobbies have not been spared. The Yard -- also known as the Met, short for Metropolitan Police Service -- is trying to slash $800 million from its budget over the next 2 1/2 years.
That has meant looking at selling the family silver, or in this case, some of the force’s large property holdings -- stations, operation centers and the like. The current headquarters, which the Yard has occupied since 1967, costs nearly $18 million a year to maintain and is in need of an $80-million upgrade, making it an “expensive luxury,” Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey told city officials Tuesday.
He acknowledged the icon value of the site but said that policing came first.
“The people of London want to see officers out on the streets. They don’t want to see us in office buildings,” Mackey told the BBC. “This is about looking [at] how we can be more imaginative and how we can save money in the process.”
Moving house would be part of a larger proposed overhaul that would see the Met unload some of its conventional, often outmoded police stations in favor of substations, or “public access points,” in such places as shopping centers and supermarkets. Police officials are eager to keep the number of officers steady at about 32,000.
The relocation, which requires the assent of city officials, would probably take about two years to carry out.
The storied police force has had to pack up and move several times in the past. In the late 19th century, its headquarters had an entrance off of a London street called Great Scotland Yard, which wound up giving the force its famous sobriquet.
When it comes to international branding for law enforcement, it’s hard to beat Scotland Yard, whose constables and officers have featured memorably (though not always favorably) in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and in Agatha Christie whodunits. Tales of Jack the Ripper aren’t complete without images of detectives from the Yard on the case.
But moving from its present site would mark a rare instance of the Metropolitan Police Service changing location in order to downsize, not expand.
Announcement of the proposal comes less than a week after revelations that another famous London landmark, the Admiralty Arch at the foot of Trafalgar Square, is being leased to developers to be turned into a private hotel. The lease is also part of the government’s drive to save money.
Traditionalists will have one consolation if Scotland Yard moves: Its famous three-paneled sign, which revolves 14,000 times each day, will apparently go with it.
[For the record, 1:40 p.m. Oct. 30: In an earlier version of this post, Craig Mackey's first name was incorrectly given as Peter.]
-- Henry Chu
Photo: The famous revolving sign outside Scotland Yard headquarters in London. Credit: Matt Dunham / Associated Press.