MPs and peers ‘will have to leave the Houses of Parliament for YEARS’ during ‘up to £20bn’ restoration as review suggests only doing ‘essentials’ to cut costs and building huge ‘dry dock’ on the Thames to speed up work
- Review says vacating Palace of Westminster during restoration still best option
- Suggests only doing ‘essentials’ to lower costs and dry dock on the River Thames
- Jacob Rees-Mogg warns against ‘Disneyland’ upgrade and fear bill hitting £20bn
MPs and peers will have to leave the Palace of Westminster for years during a multi-billion pound restoration despite efforts to scale back and speed up the work.
A strategic review of the huge project has found that vacating the Houses of Parliament during the huge overhaul of the crumbling estate remains the best option.
Despite pressure for a rethink from many MPs, it concluded that staying in the historic building is ‘technically possible’ but would mean an ‘extraordinary level of risk’, extending the length of the process by ‘decades’ and a far higher cost.
Instead the review said creating temporary Lords chambers in Richmond House and the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre respectively was still the most attractive option.
It also suggested a focus on ‘essential’ works and measures to accelerate the pace, such as installing a dry dock along the length of the estate on the Thames.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and Speaker Lindsay Hoyle have been hunting for ways to slash the bill.
Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs today that there had been fears the cost could rise to £10billion or £20billion and taxpayers would not understand if Parliament was turned into ‘Disneyland’.
The review suggested a focus on ‘essential’ works and measures to accelerate the pace, such as installing a dry dock along the length of the estate on the Thames
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured) and Speaker Lindsay Hoyle have been hunting for ways to slash the bill
Peers are expected to relocate to the nearby QEII centre during the restoration, while MPs will have a temporary chamber in Richmond House
The Restoration and Renewal Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority confirmed the plans to relocate locally after Boris Johnson suggested a move to York.
That idea did not prove popular with those who use the palace, with 19 per cent of respondents expressing clear views that moving the Lords far from the Commons ‘was not practical or acceptable’.
Just 6 per cent suggested one or both houses could move outside of London.
The restoration team will continue to develop a fully costed plan, but various price tags from £4billion to many times that have been estimated.
Parliament will be asked to approve the final plan with work expected to begin in the mid-2020s.
MPs and peers voted two years ago in favour of moving off the estate for the first time since the Luftwaffe bombed chamber in 1941.
There has been deep anxiety that the timetable – initially forecast to start in 2025 and end between five and eight years later – will stretch even further.
Opposition members of the ruling Commons commission have been accused of trying to add ‘all sorts’ of upgrades into the proposals.
MPs are due to sit in a temporary chamber being created in Richmond House, which borders the existing Parliamentary estate.
The original scoping report produced by consultants in 2015 laid out a range of possible upgrades to the estate including creating underground meeting space below the current New Palace Yard, with ‘natural light from a landscaped courtyard above’.
Minutes of a cross-party Lords committee meeting last spring showed they discussed options for QEII including ‘the provision of a staircase through the centre of the whole building to bring in natural light and improve access options between floors’.
Following concerns that peers will be deprived of access to subsidised bars and restaurants, the minutes referred to a proposal ‘for the top floor to provide the majority of catering services, a mixture of served and self-service; with the main preparation kitchen located in the basement’.
There could be ‘smaller outlets located throughout the building’.
At business questions in the Commons, Mr Rees-Mogg’s Tory predecessor Andrea Leadsom said the review’s recommendation was the same as reports in 2014, 2016 and legislation that she introduced in 2018.
‘He 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 (Mr Rees-Mogg) to gird his loins to make some progress.’
Mr Rees-Mogg responded: ‘She is right to raise the issue of restoration and renewal, it is crucial that this building does have its wiring improved and the basic services made effective. I can reassure her on the fire safety that a considerable amount of work has been done and the new fire safety system is being tested currently and I’m getting regular reports on that.’
He added: ‘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 cost of £10 to £20billion coming up.
‘We cannot say that to our constituents. We in this House have the responsibility to protect taxpayers’ money and the other place it has to be remembered doesn’t, we are responsive and answerable to our constituents.
‘And yes, we need to redo the wiring, yes we need to ensure this place is safe and secure but we must not turn this House of Commons into Disneyland.’
MPs are due to sit in a temporary chamber being created in Richmond House, which borders the existing Parliamentary estate (artist’s impression)
Peers have been making plans for their temporary accommodation when the restoration of the Palace of Westminster begins. PIctured is the House of Lords last month
Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said: ‘The idea that parliament could be fully restored without evacuating MPs and staff was always a ridiculous obsession of a minority of politicians.
‘We welcome the conclusion of this review that this option would pose and ”extraordinary level of risk” and hope that this bad idea can now finally be put to bed, after a large amount of time and public money has been wasted pursing it.
In a letter in July, Mr Johnson said that locations outside London should be considered if MPs and peers do have to move out.
Mr Johnson wrote: ‘Costs should be kept to a minimum (ie no gold plating). We should also move as quickly as possible.’
The PM said that the case for both Houses staying in place should be considered but that other locations should be in the mix.
He stated: ‘However, the review should also consider a possible location outside London.
‘The Government is considering establishing a Government hub in York and it would therefore make sense to consider this as a potential location.’
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