MPs launch inquiry into £4bn Palace of Westminster renovation plan

Concerns over proposals prompt select committee investigation – but some MPs demand even more expensive option

Benjamin Kentish
Sunday 15 January 2017 13:06
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Current plans to renovate the Palace of Westminster would cost £4 billion
Current plans to renovate the Palace of Westminster would cost £4 billion

Multi-billion pound plans to renovate the Houses of Parliament are to be investigated by a committee of MPs amid growing concern about the cost of the project.

The chairman of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie, says there is not enough evidence to justify the estimated costs of up to £4 billion.

The Palace of Westminster is said to be in urgent need of major maintenance work. Under proposals to be debated by the House of Commons later this month, MPs and peers would have to move out of the building for up to eight years while the work is completed.

“The restoration and renewal programme is estimated to cost between £3.5 and £4bn over five to eight years,” Mr Tyrie said.

“Neither the report by Deloitte nor that by the joint commission provides enough of the evidence needed to come even to a preliminary decision on these proposals.

“So the Treasury Committee will attempt to collect some of it. This is why the committee has called for evidence on this massive, and hugely expensive, restoration project. The proposals certainly need thorough scrutiny.”

Officials have previously concluded the Palace is at risk of a “catastrophic failure” such as a flood or fire because plumbing and electrical infrastructure is “no longer fit for purpose”.

Work is needed to install new piping and cabling, repair crumbling stonework, remove asbestos, restore 4,000 windows and repair damaged roofs.

Under some proposals, MPs and peers would be allowed to continue to use the Palace for debates while the work is carried out. This carries a much larger price tag of up to £7 billion. The Treasury Select Committee will look at whether a plan to carry out the work over a longer period could cause less disruption.

Last week a cross-party group of MPs backed the alternative plan that would allow MPs to stay in the Palace of Westminster and establish two temporary debating chambers elsewhere in the building.

Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, told the Architects’ Journal: “The Houses of Parliament are an iconic symbol of our parliamentary democracy. To abandon it at one of the most critical junctures in our history is senseless.

“Wasting money to build a permanent new chamber that will only temporarily house the Commons is pure folly. In this time of austerity it’s unjustifiable, and we intend to keep a close eye on the costs involved in this project.”

Architects have suggested the House of Commons could meet in the Lords Chamber while the House of Lords relocates to the Royal Gallery, which is currently used for banquets and state receptions.

Under the current plans to temporarily move Parliament while the restoration work is carried out, MPs would be housed in a space in the Department of Health offices, while the Lords would set up a chamber at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster.

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