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Google Approves £1bn Post-Brexit London Expansion

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Google believes the UK’s prospects outside the EU remain strong

Google will continue with plans to invest £1 billion in a new Kings Cross headquarters and to create 3,000 jobs by 2020.

The government portrayed the announcement as a vote of confidence in London as an economic and technology centre following its planned exit from the EU.

Google London

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Google’s planned Silicon Valley headquartersStrong prospects

Speaking at the company’s current London office, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said the company had reservations about Brexit but that Britain had strong high-tech prospects.

“Here in the UK, it’s clear to me that computer science has a great future with the talent, educational institutions, and passion for innovation we see all around us,” he said. “We are committed to the UK and excited to continue our investment in our new King’s Cross campus.”

The project involves building a massive 10-storey building next to the company’s existing base – the first building Google will both design and own outside the US. The project had been thrown into doubt by the EU referendum and after its original 2013 design, by London-based architects AHMM, was scrapped for being “too boring”.

For the new plan Google has engaged Thomas Heatherwick, the designer of the new London bus, whose agency is to work with Danish architects Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the duo having previously collaborated on Google’s planned Silicon Valley headquarters (pictured).

‘Vote of confidence’

While no imagery was shown at the event, Heatherwick described his idea as “the Silicon Valley startup garage meets the London train sheds in a building that couples clarity with eccentricity and anchors innovation with heritage”.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said the news was a “vote of confidence” in London, while chancellor Philip Hammond said the plans confirmed “Britain’s leading position as a global tech hub”.

The building is to be as long as the Shard is tall, and have 650,000 sq ft (60,400 sq metres) of floorspace.

Google is to continue occupying its current 380,000 sq ft office at 6 Pancras Square until 2018, when it plans to move into a second building that it will not own, the construction of which began earlier this year.

Tax controversy

Google’s ownership of the upcoming building is likely to add a new fold to its already complicated tax affairs in the UK, with the company currently insisting its presence in Britain is minimal and doesn’t contitute a “permanent establishment”.

The majority of income from British operations is currently routed through Google’s advertising sales department in Ireland. Nearly all of Google’s revenues take the form of advertising sales.

Pichai told the BBC the company wants to “be a good citizen” in the countries where it does business, but reiterated the company’s position that it is only taking advantage of the tax laws that are currently in place, and that “it is more important for governments and citizens to sort out the right structure”.

At the event Pichai referred to the controversy around last week’s US elections, in which Google and Facebook are accused of playing a role through the spread of false and often misleading information during the campaign.

The election and other events “have clearly surfaced challenges with inequality and people feeling marginalised”, he said, adding he hoped Google could play a role in addressing such issues.

Google and Facebook have announced measures to cut off advertising funding from sites that spread false news.

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