NEW PREMISES: MPs defend pounds 1m-a-head office block

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MPs DEFENDED spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on a new office block, insisting yesterday that it was built to last at least 200 years.

They came under fire after it was revealed that the cost of Portcullis House, on Bridge Street, directly opposite Big Ben, had spiralled to pounds 250m. At the topping-out ceremony, Sir Sydney Chapman, the chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee, which oversees the building work, said that the figure had been revised, and the project would ultimately cost pounds 15m less than that worst-case scenario. Up to 201 MPs will be able to move into their new offices after next year's summer recess - ahead of schedule, Sir Sydney added.

"Few today would suggest that the money spent on the Palace of Westminster 150 years ago was a poor investment, even though the building cost three times more than the original budget," he said.

Portcullis House, which was recently dismissed by the Evening Standard newspaper as "London's latest architectural fiasco", will cost pounds 70m more than planned. The construction team's original pounds 165m estimate failed to anticipate inflation and spiralling fees.

Perched above the new Westminster Jubilee Line station, the building will house four shops that MPs hope to rent out. It will include committee rooms and restaurants. MPs will be able to relax in a leafy courtyard, which may feature a fountain, although they deny that they are planning unnecessary extravaganza.

MPs travelled to Berlin to compare plans for the Reichstag with Portcullis House. David Chidgey, a Liberal Democrat member of the committee, said the cost of the comparative German facilities was about the same as those in London, "so it is unfair to suggest that we are wasting taxpayers' money".