Blitz tunnels to become vast gold vault in Epsom
Hundreds of millions of pounds worth of gold and other precious metals could be stored in chalk tunnels built to protect people from the Blitz.
Planning permission has been granted to turn 2,000 square metres of tunnels off Ashley Road in Epsom into a vault for precious metals.
The plan is the brainchild of Dr Wilem Frischmann CBE, a distinguished engineer who has received planning permission from Epsom Council in August for the conversion.
With insurers setting a limit to the amount of gold they will insure at any one location, and with the price of gold soaring, banks around the world are under pressure to find new locations to store bullion.
London is the centre of the bullion market and only last year Barclays announced that it was opening a new gold vault there.
The tunnels, which run 50 feet deep thorough chalk, were built at the start of World War II to shelter more than 2,000 people from German bombs.
But they were rarely used and are now only home to bats as well as being used twice a week by Elite Action Games for airsoft wargames.
Dr Frischmann is a holocaust survivor, who helped design Centre Point in central London, and whose daughter Justine was lead singer of alternative rock band Elastica and dated Damon Albam of Blur during the 1990s.
He bought the air raid shelter site at an auction about 10 years ago convinced it was a great place to store valuable objects.
He said: “If it is possible for people to live there when it is bombed, it will be a good place to have precious metals.
"These tunnels would be very safe.”
He said talks were taking place with a number of banks interested in using the site.
He said: “The world needs storage. Banks constantly want to store gold and there is a shortage of space.”
The plans for a storage facility include existing toilets being converted into a store as well as the creation of an extension at the front for offices with an access ramp to the vault below.
A portion of the existing tunnel network and toilet zone would be reserved for bats after a survey in March found evidence of Natterer’s bats, a fairly common species found throughout much of the UK.
Jeremy Hart, curator at Bourne Hall Museum, said the air raid shelter was built in spring 1941 with government money.
Mr Hart said: "It was going to be for refugees from the London Blitz, the logic being the Downs were chalk and bombproof.
But in reality he said the damp shelter was abandoned pretty fast because there were few houses in the area and only night bombing took place.
He said: "It's puzzling because it is so useless but it is simply part of planning for the war as it didn't turn out."