The Palace of Westminster must undergo a renovation programme that could last up to 40 years and cost more than £7bn, according to a comprehensive official report.
Commissioned by the House of Lords and House of Commons, the report offers five options for MPs and peers to consider as they plan works to make sure the building remains safe and secure for future generations.
The Palace of Westminster, a Unesco world heritage site and Grade 1 listed building, has not undergone any form of restoration programme since it was rebuilt following a fire in 1834, according to the report.
Driving the need for modernisation are the threat of fire, water damage decay and dilapidation, it says, and the combined effect of pollution and lack of maintenance, which have caused decay to the stonework.
The roofs are leaking, gutters and internal plumbing regularly fail, and there has been extensive damage to the Pugin-designed interiors, the report says. There is asbestos throughout the building, it adds.
Any subsequent debate over the options will inevitably be highly charged at a time of large-scale cuts in public spending. Some critics will claim that it is another example of politicians making decisions about their own working environment. It comes just weeks after MPs were awarded a 10% pay rise by the independent MPs’ expenses watchdog, Ipsa.
The report’s authors were not asked to find the cheapest options available. They were asked to assume that the building would return to being the centre of UK’s democracy following any restoration work.
Parliament’s programme director for the restoration and renewal scheme, Richard Ware, said they had not considered sites outside London because of the need for proximity to government departments and support staff.
“At this stage we have not been authorised to look into that or cost it in detail,” he said.
The 250-page report details five scenarios ranging from a “do minimum” gradual approach, which would take 32 years, to “a full move out” which would mean that parliamentarians can no longer work in the building for six years. This would cost an estimated £3.9bn.
The most expensive option – a rolling programme of work that would allow the palace to continue to function as a seat of government – would expect to cost £5.7bn in capital expenditure but would take 32 years to complete, the report says. Total costs could rise to £7.1bn and take 40 years in the worst-case scenario, an official confirmed.
The slowest option would mean it would be divided into 12 different zones, each renovated in turn with both chambers being closed for between two and four years at different times. A mid-option would see MPs and peers vacate the chambers in turn, at a cost of around £4.4bn. A full move-out would take the least time and minimise disruption to parliament, according to the report.
Possible options for a temporary, alternative building have previously included the nearby Queen Elizabeth II building and the Central Methodist Hall. Such premises would have to be found in the “near future” even if work did not start before 2020, the report added.
Developers could vastly improve the facilities within the Houses of Parliament, the report says. Lifts could be installed in the Elizabeth Tower, where the bell “Big Ben” is housed, air conditioning could be installed more widely, and atriums could be built to cover at least two of the courtyards. New retail centres and visitor centres could be added as well as using the opportunity to improve wheelchair access and build a multi-faith prayer room, it suggests.
The main New Palace Yard, in the shadow of the Great Clock, could be completely reworked, with a lower central grass area. The top floor of the underground car park below the Yard would be turned into meeting rooms and reception areas, with natural light coming in from the newly “landscaped courtyard”.
The report was commissioned in 2013 following the publication of a study that showed irreversible damage may be done to the palace without urgent work. The management consultancy giant Deloitte led the consortium that drew up the report, which also included the design and engineering firms AECOM and HOK.
Parliament is to establish a joint committee of MPs and peers who will make a decision from the five options. It will be chaired by Chris Grayling, the leader of the Commons, and the leader of the Lords, Lady Stowell.
Downing Street said David Cameron wanted to ensure the report was properly scrutinised to ensure there was value for the taxpayers’ money given the “very high” sums of money involved. The prime minister’s spokeswoman said: “He has not yet had an opportunity to study the report, he may do that over the weekend, and he will give his view after that.”
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