MPs' whims delay building

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The Independent Online
MPs ARE facing a housing crisis. Their pounds 250m office block, dubbed "the new palace of Westminster", is three months behind its construction deadline because of problems fitting parts of the building together.

The bronze-clad New Parliamentary Building, in the shadow of Big Ben, has already been affected by the construction of Westminster's Jubilee Line station, which delayed the start of the project by 11 months.

This latest setback has occurred only six months after building began and is being partly blamed on the architectural whims of MPs. They rejected the use of concrete columns in the six-storey building, so architects suggested using solid stone instead. However, the builders had problems fitting sections of the concrete floor to the solid stone columns and then cracks appeared in six huge arches after the concrete around them set.

The scheme has been criticised in the past for costing taxpayers nearly pounds 1,000 per square foot, which is four times the normal price for London office space. The original estimate was that the building would cost between pounds 120m and pounds 130m but this has almost doubled in just a few years.

When it is completed by Laing, the New Parliamentary Building will provide 253 MPs with a courtyard, balconies, shop, hair salon and a restaurant opposite the House of Commons. The team of architects is being led by Sir Michael Hopkins, who designed the new Glyndebourne opera house and the ticket office at Buckingham Palace. He has planned the building around a central courtyard with an arched glass canopy above the restaurant.

Syd Rapson, MP for Portsmouth North, who is a member of the House of Commons Accommodation and Works Committee, is not impressed by the delay. He told Building magazine that he was informed at a meeting last month that the project programme had slipped by five to six weeks in June alone.

"We are watching this project like hawks and intend to push and push as much as we can," he said. "All of us are concerned but when it comes to trying to influence the speed or construction there is very little MPs can do except moan.

"The civil servants in charge of the project are under constant pressure. We are on the Government's side but we don't see this project as one we have to defend. It was approved by the previous administration.

Sir Sydney Chapman MP (Chipping Barnet), the committee chairman, defended the project. He said checks were being carried out to ensure that parts of the building fitted together better before they arrived at the site.

"The project is behind but we hope to make up that time. This project is right at the cutting edge of technology and the reason it is delayed is the difficulties encountered when prefabricated materials have got to site," he added.