A bunker that inspired James Bond’s fictional “Q laboratories” could be turned into a tourist attraction.

The deep-level tunnels beneath Chancery Lane tube station in High Holborn were originally built as an air-raid shelter during the Second World War.

Never used as such, they later became the ‘Kingsway telephone exchange’ secret communications HQ during the Cold War.

Once home to MI6's Special Operations Executive, writer Ian Fleming mentioned them in his first Bond novel Casino Royale as the location of M's Q Branch laboratories.

Closed down over the 1980s and 90s, the tunnels eventually sold and now entrepreneur Angus Murray has been given planning permission to run it as a tourist centre by the City of London Corporation.

But because the tunnels lie on the border with the borough of Camden, plans will also go before its planning committee next month.

The Kingsway Exchange tunnel 200ft under High HolbornThe Kingsway Exchange tunnel 200ft under High Holborn (Image: John Pannel)

“I am excited by these plans and hope that Camden feels the same way,” the City Corporation’s planning chairman Shravan Joshi says.

“The new heritage activity that this scheme has the potential for will liven up the area. Developments like the one proposed for the Kingsway tunnel site will become global attractions.”

London’s deepest-level bar is envisaged in the scheme — but no subterranean cafés. The owners want visitors using the bars and restaurants at street level to help Holborn’s local economy.

This could be deepest level bar in LondonThis could be deepest level bar in London (Image: City of London)

The story of the “subterranean city” began 84 years ago with tunnelling that started after the London Blitz, when the defence authorities realised a need for deep-level shelters.

But it took five years to dig it all out and was only finished after VE Day in 1945 — too late for use in wartime.

So the nearby Chancery public records office took it over for a while to store 400 tons of historic documents.

A Land Registry map of the tunnel complex under High HolbornA Land Registry map of the tunnel complex under High Holborn (Image: Land Registry)

The emerging Cold War between East and West, however, gave the tunnels under High Holborn a new defensive purpose.

The tunnels — not to be confused with the old Kingsway tram tunnel further west — were converted into a Ministry of Defence telecommunications centre along with other strategic centres in Birmingham and Manchester, which inspired Ian Fleming, who was himself a wartime British secret agent.

The Kingsway telephone exchange was operated secretly by the Post Office until the early 1980s when digital technology began to replace the now-ageing equipment. Its existence only become public knowledge when the Cold War ended.

A CGI of how London's wartime and Cold War cultural heritage might look as a tourist attractionA CGI of how London's wartime and Cold War cultural heritage might look as a tourist attraction (Image: City of London)

The warren of tunnels 200ft below ground was put up for sale in 2008 but no serious bidders emerged — until recently when fund manager Angus Murray bought them with ideas to open it to the public.

The entrance would be from a building along Furnival Street, which currently looks more like a warehouse with its overhanging hoist and heavy steel doors.

The unassuming entrance in Furnival Street that leads to the old tunnel complexThe unassuming entrance in Furnival Street that leads to the old tunnel complex (Image: City of London)

Another way in would be an old disused entrance to Chancery Lane tube station - now part of an office block in High Holborn.

The Kingsway-Chancery tunnels are a legacy of the Cold War as well as the London Blitz. Converting the wartime shelter into a top secret communications hub had been a huge undertaking that was completed in 1954.

An army of 200 defence workers moved in at its peak, with their own canteen, recreation areas and even a sick bay, confident that if World War Three ever broke out they could still call home!

Thankfully that didn’t happen. Now, instead, the new owners want to open up the whole thing, even suggesting free educational visits for primary schoolchildren as part of their London cultural heritage.