They have commissioned 100 further surveys to get more accurate cost estimates.
The 150-year-old building is falling apart faster than it can be fixed, with the annual cost of maintenance and ongoing works recently doubling in just three years to £127m in 2018/19.
That the Palace of Westminster – the Houses of Parliament – is nearly beyond repair is not in doubt. What is under discussion is how to justify the cost and how to manage the disruption for the 3,000 people that work within it.
A report prepared in 2015 by Deloitte Real Estate with Aecom and HOK put the cost of essential refurbishment work at £3.5bn if the Palace is decanted for six years and builders can work freely. If everyone stays on site, it would cost £5.7bn and take 32 years to get the job done. There were also options in between, such as decanting the Lords first, and then the Commons. The cost of the actual buildings work itself makes up just £1bn of the total, in either case, that report said.
In April 2020 an independent body was set up to manage the renewal project. It commissioned its own review of options for how the restoration programme should be carried out. This report, Restoration and Renewal Programme: Strategic Review, has now been published. It confirms that restoring the building while all MPs and peers remain on site would cost billions more and take decades longer than temporarily moving out while work takes place. It says that the best option is the previously agreed strategy of temporarily locating MPs on Parliament’s northern estate, and peers in temporary accommodation at the QEII Conference Centre.
It recommends new ways of phasing the restoration work to minimise the time MPs and peers would spend in temporary accommodation, including accessing the Palace from the river to carry out work. A dry dock could be erected alongside the Palace, giving better access to the full length of the building.
Sarah Johnson, chief executive of the Restoration and Renewal Sponsor Body, said: “The iconic home of Parliament is in urgent need of restoration. The review has found new ways of carrying out the complex project, focused on getting value for money, and we will continue preparing a detailed and costed restoration and renewal plan that will for the first time give Parliament a true sense of the costs and timescales of restoring the Palace of Westminster.”
David Goldstone, chief executive of the Restoration and Renewal Delivery Authority, said: “We are absolutely committed to getting on with the job, making sure we spend money effectively, focusing on the vital and essential work that needs doing to protect and restore the world-famous Palace of Westminster while supporting thousands of jobs nationwide.”
The restoration team will continue to develop a detailed and costed plan. This work will include more than 100 investigative surveys, with specialist teams spending thousands of hours analysing the building, including the 1,100 rooms and more than 3,000 windows.
The restoration programme will now work with Parliament to work out the best way to accommodate MPs on its northern estate. A new, ‘do minimum’ cost effective temporary accommodation option is being developed to consider as one of the options for the QEII Conference Centre. Following engagement with the Commissions of both Houses, the programme has agreed to further test the feasibility of MPs having a continued presence in the Palace of Westminster while restoration work takes place, and this analysis will be incorporated into work to develop the detailed and costed restoration plan. As previously planned, work is expected to begin on the Palace of Westminster in the mid-2020s.
JFDI says former leader of the House
Andrew Leadsom MP, a former leader of the House of Commons, noted that the “renewal sponsor body’s latest report recommends exactly the same as the report in 2014 and the report in 2016, and draws the same conclusion as the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration andRenewal) Bill that I introduced in 2018”.
Addressing current leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, she continued: “My right hon Friend must surely see that the risks of a major asbestos leak, a sewage failure, or, indeed, a devastating fire, such as we saw at Notre Dame, are very high and remain very high, and we have virtually no contingency for this place. My personal motto is JFDI, and I would like to offer that to my right hon. Friend to gird his loins to make some progress.”
Rees-Mogg did not share her sense of urgency. “I always prefer the motto of Queen Elizabeth I: semper eadem — always the same — which makes a very good motto. Or, if you like, Mr Speaker, honi soit qui mal y pense, which is also a jolly good motto from the Order of the Garter.”
He continued: “My right hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of restoration and renewal. It is crucial that this building has its wiring improved and the basic services made effective. On the fire safety issue, a considerable amount of work has been done; the new fire safety system is being tested currently, and I am getting regular reports on that. It is a mist system with significant excess capacity, which means that there is the prospect of extending it further. I am glad to say that that has made considerable progress since my right hon. Friend was the leader of the House.
“Regardless of all these reports, regardless of what people have suggested, this has to get value for money for the taxpayer. We have suddenly heard talk of costs of £10 billion to £20 billion coming up. We cannot say that to our constituents. We in this House have the responsibility to protect taxpayers’ money. The other place [House of Lords], it must be remembered, does not. We are responsible, responsive and answerable to our constituents. Yes, we need to redo the wiring. Yes, we need to ensure that this place is safe and secure, but we must not turn this House of Commons into Disneyland.”