Houses of Parliament revamp to cost £30m to draw up

The Palace of Westminster restoration programme is expected to be one of the most fiendishly difficult building jobs in the country when work starts

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The Independent Online

Architects and engineers selected to help rescue and restore the Houses of Parliament stand to earn nearly £30m a year before a decaying limestone brick or leaky roof is even replaced.

The Palace of Westminster restoration and renewal programme is expected to be one of the most fiendishly difficult building jobs in the country when work starts in 2020. The Grade I-listed building is riddled with asbestos, rodents and flood and fire risks. None of parliament’s 3,800 windows closes properly and internal plumbing regularly fails, yet it is supposed to be both a working office and tourist attraction with more than one million visitors, including 40,000 school children, every year.

Rebuilt after a fire in 1834, it could take 32 years and cost more than £7bn to modernise the palace if MPs and peers decide not to move out while the work is carried out.

However, a committee of MPs and peers, which includes the Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling, and his shadow Angela Eagle, are expected to recommend either a partial or full decampment of politicians.

This could bring the cost down to £3.5bn and take only six years, according to a recent report by Deloitte Real Estate, Aecom, and HOK. The last coalition government quietly shelved the sale of the state-owned Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre after ministers were advised that the neighbouring building could end up being Parliament’s temporary home when building work eventually takes place.

Parliament’s corporate offices have issued a pre-qualification questionnaire, which potential bidders must pass by illustrating their experience and expertise, for two contracts. The first is for architecture and design, potentially worth more than £20m a year, and the second for project and cost services, which could pay up to £8.6m a year. Neither figure includes inflation or VAT, but are upper limits.

A shortlist will be drawn up later this year and contracts awarded next summer. The selected parties will act as a shadow delivery team before a formal organisation is set up to oversee the programme closer to 2020. They will be expected to undertake much of the preparatory work, which will include due diligence of partially unmapped foundations.

This organisation is likely to be modeled on the Olympic Delivery Partner, which saw a private sector team comprising UK-based Mace, US engineer CH2M Hill, and construction giant Laing O’Rourke manage the construction of the park for the London 2012 games.

Mace and CH2M Hill are thought to be considering bids for Parliament, as are British engineering experts WS Atkins and Arup. US giants such as California-based Bechtel are also likely to pitch.

The revamp would almost certainly involve delivering materials and machinery by boat, which could see between one-third to a half of the Westminster section of the River Thames closed off. Dry docks would need to be built and politicians would be unable to enjoy wine, beer and lunch on the building’s terrace, but this would prevent years of gridlock in Parliament Square and Whitehall with huge lorries going to and from Parliament.

Some MPs have been infuriated by the cost of the project. Labour’s Graham Stringer has argued that they should move permanently elsewhere in the UK, while ex-transport secretary Lord Adonis has called on the House of Lords to be moved to the North to help geographically rebalance the economy.