Parliament’s Restoration to be Reviewed Deeper and Wider after Covid-19

PLANS FOR THE restoration needed to save the Houses of Parliament will be reexamined by the new Olympic-style Sponsor Body in charge of the work.

The review will assess whether a recommendation made in a report five years ago that all MPs and Lords should leave the Palace of Westminster while the work was carried out is still the “best and most cost-effective” option.

The review team will examine the evidence used to produce the report and consider any new findings to ensure value for money for the taxpayer. A challenge panel to test the review will include government and senior parliamentary figures.

The Sponsor Body, which was formally established last month, is the single client accountable to Parliament and oversees a Delivery Authority, which will carry out the work. This way of working was set up under new legislation last year in the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act.

Following the change in government and the pandemic, the review is set to be deeper and more wide-ranging than originally thought.

The National Audit Office report published in April 2020 pointed to the 146% rise in costs of the ongoing restoration of Big Ben. The NAO report said the Sponsor Body needs to take a firm grip on the costs of the Palace Estate restoration.

Biggest and most complex heritage project

The review will be led by Sarah Johnson, the Sponsor Body CEO, and will involve infrastructure and programme management experts drawn from the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority.

Sarah Johnson said: “The restoration and renewal of the Houses of Parliament will be the biggest and most complex heritage project ever undertaken in the UK, protecting one of the world’s most recognisable buildings and likely to support thousands of jobs across the country.

“The Sponsor Body has been set up to ensure that the project is delivered in the most efficient way that delivers value for money. It is entirely appropriate that we should pause at this time to consider the validity of recommendations made over five years ago before either the Sponsor Body or Delivery Authority was formed.

“The impact of the current health crisis on public finances and Parliament’s ways of working has made it even more essential that we review both the strategy for relocating the two Houses and the scope of the restoration of the Palace.”

The review will consider and make recommendations on:

  • whether the current solutions present value for money
  • what compromises would need to be made to save money
  • what opportunities exist for a simpler, quicker and cheaper temporary accommodation
  • how ways of working developed in response to Covid-19 affect options or requirements for temporary accommodation

Temporary Parliament Move

After a report comparing options was published in 2015, both Houses collectively agreed in 2018 that the ‘best and most cost-effective’ way of carrying out the restoration and renewal was to move out of the Palace of Westminster temporarily.

MPs and Peers decided to leave the building completely to avoid the significant disruption that would be caused by remaining on site while construction work carried on around them.

Under existing plans, the House of Commons is expected to move to Parliament’s Northern Estate, occupying a new temporary House of Commons chamber in Richmond House, on Whitehall. The House of Lords is expected to move temporarily to the QEII Conference Centre, opposite Westminster Abbey, in Westminster.

The Sponsor Body review is expected to report in the autumn. The review will make recommendations which will be presented to the appropriate Parliamentary authorities.

Restoration

The need for the restoration is becoming increasingly urgent. Many features have not been renovated since it was built in the 19th century. The longer the essential work is left, the greater the risk of a catastrophic failure from fire, flooding or falling stones.

According to the National Audit Office, Parliament has spent more than £369m on maintenance since 2016. There is an increasing backlog of repairs estimated at over £1 billion.

Replacement of the cast iron roof tiles lead by Shelpey Engineers has been ongoing since 2013, with Phase 2 of the roof restoration scheduled to finish next year. See ‘A Right Royal Roof Refurbishment’, Roofing Today Issue 67 November 2016, page 28.

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