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Tech Sector Boost As Spies Choose Extremely Unsecret Manchester Base

Heron House, the new Manchester spy HQ

Some people aren't very good a keeping secrets. The surprise is that GCHQ, the UK government's chief electronic eavesdropping agency, is one of them.

Twelve months after reports first surfaced that the Government Communications HQ planned to open its new Manchester hub at the 100K SF Heron House, Albert Square, those reports have been confirmed. It will take a 15 year lease on an unspecified floorspace, but one the agency says will house between 500 and 1,000 staff. Lettings schedules suggest about 60K SF has been taken.

Not only is the leak a surprise, but so is its openness about the location. GCHQ issued a press release. Until relatively recently even the existence of GCHQ, let alone the whereabouts of its Cheltenham HQ and London outstation, were officially denied.

Speaking about the move to Manchester, a GCHQ figure known only as Simon said: “There is no barbed wire fence here. We have announced we are here and our building is here. Top secret intelligence being done in a city centre is a revolutionary thing," the Sunday Times reported.

The GCHQ move is a massive boost to Manchester's reputation as the UK's second city of tech. The organisation's director-general, Jeremy Fleming, said that moving to Manchester would open the door to a  "a huge new pool of highly talented, tech-savvy recruits vital to our future success."

GCHQ works alongside MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) to keep Britain safe.

Heron House, which was already due to host a £15M cyber innovation hub, is being redeveloped by Manchester City Council. Bruntwood is acting as development managers, with 5plus Architects designing. The scheme reached practical completion in June.