Work starts on MPs' `Legoland' home before they have anywhere to put it

More than pounds 90m has been spent on a "Legoland" office block being pieced together for MPs at Westminster.

Construction of the pounds 250m bronze and sandstone offices started in January, on the site opposite Big Ben where London Underground has been laying the new Jubilee Line.

But while the Parliamentary Works Directorate has been waiting for London Underground to complete and clear the site, a lot of the work on the new Commons office building has been going on around the country.

A project spokesman told The Independent that it had been decided to prefabricate as much of the new building as possible, with work already substantially completed on sandstone columns from Derbyshire, granite plinths and walling, precast concrete floors, columns and arches. "All the flooring units come ready-made, and they'll slot on top of the columns; that's where talk of the Lego kit comes in," the spokesman said.

"The columns are individual stones, but they come ready-made in storey- high units with a big metal bar through the middle of them, and a bolt at each end to turn it together.

"The on-site job is really just putting it all together and bolting it up, and making sure it's wind and weather-proof." When it is completed, the new building will provide individual offices for more than 200 MPs and their staff, with six select- committee rooms - one equipped for simultaneous translation - eight conference rooms, exhibition space, restaurant and canteen facilities, a post office and "a necessities shop". Already called Portcullis House, after the Westminster insignia, it is expected to be ready for occupation from the beginning of 2001. Sir Sydney Chapman, Conservative chairman of the all-party Commons Accommodation and Works Committee, has said that Michael Hopkins and Partners, the architects, had been commissioned "to produce a building designed for a life of 200 years or more, using materials of high quality, including natural stone, bronze and English oak, as befits a site of international importance."

But while the building is being built to last, with roofing and windows made of aluminium and bronze, The Independent has been told that there is no question of furnishing it with the kind of luxurious fittings that have been commissioned in the existing Palace of Westminster.

The new building will contain none of the hand-printed wallpaper, or luxury furnishings, which provoked the recent row over the pounds 650,000 redecoration of the Lord Chancellor's apartments.

"There will be no wallpaper at all in the building," one source said, "so we can scotch that one; there will be no hand-printed wallpaper."

The building will also be carpeted with carpet-tiles, rather than the hand-made, Pugin-design carpeting used in the main parliamentary building. "We will be going to the manufacturers for a standard product," the project spokesman said. "It will be a plain background with a black spot on it, and the office furniture will be bought off the market. What the House decided was that we had to build a building which was not to the standards of the speculative office developer, knowing it was going to be pulled down in 30 years' time. We are building on the presumption that Parliament lasts for ever."

The pounds 250m budget makes allowance for forecast construction price inflation up to the year 2000, and includes the purchase of the site, all fees and expenses, furnishing and fitting out costs, including value-added tax.