Moving out of the Palace

44101Last September, the Joint Committee on the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster issued its report.  It drew attention to the fact that, although the Palace of Westminster is structurally sound, the building’s mechanical and electrical services – the basic services enabling the place to operate – are no longer amenable to a ‘patch and mend’ approach and, without an intensive programme, the Palace will become uninhabitable.   The infrastructure is basically a mess – it is not clear where all the wiring goes, the whole place is a major fire risk, and there is the danger of catastrophic failure.  Anyone who walks round the Palace will see the existing ‘patch and mend’ work going on, which is in itself extensive, but it is not sufficient.

The Joint Committee recommended that in principle the option to be adopted is for both Houses to move out (the full decant option) for about 6 years.  Other options would be (a) work taking place on a rolling programme while both Houses remain in place, which would likely take about 32 years, but would still involve both chambers moving out for between two and four years, and (b) each House basically taking it in turn to move out while work is completed, a process likely to take eleven years.

Some parliamentarians are keen on staying put, which I find rather bizarre as well as leaving members open to the accusation of being self-serving.  The full decant option is the cheapest of those on offer (though knocking the Palace down and building a new Parliament building would actually be cheaper) as well as being the most sensible.  The reasons given by the Joint Committee are to my mind irrefutable:

‘The analysis in the Independent Options Appraisal, and all the independent, expert evidence we have received, have pointed us to one clear conclusion: that a full decant of the Palace of Westminster is the best delivery option in principle.  It allows the work to be completed in the shortest possible timeframe, it minimises the risk of disruption to the day-to-day operation of Parliament, it is likely to involve the lowest capital cost, it minimises the risk to safety of construction operatives and occupants, it minimises the risk to the Programme itself, and it provides the greatest scope for meeting the needs of a 21st Century Parliament building.’

We might recognise the difference between the two chambers.  The wiring in the Palace does not.  The infrastructure is the Palace infrastructure.  There is no clear argument for doing it bit by bit.   We do know that the place is riddled with asbestos.  We cannot be certain what else may be found.   The cost of the least expensive option runs to over £3 billion.  I am not sure I would be able to persuade the taxpayer of the merits of spending anything from another half-a-billion to £2 billion to avoid MPs and peers having to leave the Palace while work takes place.

Both Houses have yet to take a decision.  We were supposed to be taking one by spring of last year.  I gather there will shortly be votes.  It will take several years to prepare for a decant.  The sooner we resolve the matter, the better.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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11 Responses to Moving out of the Palace

  1. Holyrood –I think the time has come to take the Union seriously. Of course there might be the odd expense bringing it up to par for a six year service of that kind.

    • Extending the Tube to Holyrood could of course be prohibitive but not if Theresa May can get a magic funding formula from President Trump. Perhaps the Tube Spur and the wall could share some design elements as well.

  2. Hugo Miller says:

    How can ANYTHING cost three thousand million Pounds?

  3. Mark Shephard says:

    I would favour a nominal and transparent/listed tax increase to pay for the restoration and upkeep of core heritage buildings throughout the UK. At the moment I donate in other ways such as via the National Trust.

  4. Croft says:

    I h8 the ‘third way’ meme but is there not a alternative symbolic option. Both chambers move out but St Stephen’s Hall (seems pretty easy to block off while the work commences) could be used to symbolically keep parliament in parliament with some of the non chamber debates that presently take place there.

    • Gerard Francomb says:

      It is possible to physically isolate parts of the Palace, but there is a single electricity and steam central heating system. These will have to be shut down whilst the work is being undertaken, so that using any part of the Palace would mean that new temporary services would first have to be installed for those parts. I see no alternative to moving out whilst these services are replaced, hopefully to include the ability to shut only parts down in future. Once moved out for this period the question then is to the logic of letting them finish the work uninterrupted by staying out for longer or moving back in earlier, with the additional upheaval that this will cause.

  5. maude elwes says:

    Forgive my brutality, but, as a person who has been in the property side of things for a good long time. Especially refurbishment and restoration of period Grade 1 and 2 buildings and dating back some time, I have to tell you, those who quoted are seeing you and the tax payers coming.

    Yes, it is a big job. Yes it will need craftsmen of a special kind for a lot of it, however, those chosen are looking for lifetime funding. Maybe as the income of them all for say 100 years. LOL.

    The best option is as Croft suggests, out in full as the asbestos is an unknown entity, with one portion or so of the entire building still functioning, in the safest zones. Make a big deal of it. Have as many come through and see the work as possible and put a cash box as big as an enormous fish tank to raise funds that all can see.

    To help with funding you can only raise cash from the public and tourists if you let them see it still exists as a ‘working’ Parliament. They will not be interested if the place is closed. Not only that, it’s akin to the Ravens at the Tower, bad fung shui to shut off the seat if our democracy for such a long period. In other words, bad luck, and we don’t need more of that.

  6. labeldesalis says:

    Move Parliament to Hull !

  7. Robin Stanley Taylor says:

    I think the problem with moving out is that some members fear it will be difficult to move back in again. Once people get used to working in a different (presumably more modern) location the status quo ante might not be recoverable. Certainly we know that palace-bashing is very popular among some groups of political figures, and actually moving out (no matter how heavily the temporary nature of this is reinforced) will only amplify their voices.

  8. Gerard Francomb says:

    Leaving aside how the work is organised and given the lead time, I would suggest that Parliament insists that a suitable school to train people in the necessary restoration skills be set up and apprentices trained up to craftsman standard. This would provide both a large enough skilled workforce to undertake the work expeditiously but also preserve essential skills both for our own historic buildings and others worldwide. There is the possibility of using this project to also make Britain the leader in this sort of work.

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