Repairing Parliament: MPs' three options (including a move)

  • 30 October 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
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The Palace of Westminster is falling apart. The 150-year-old building is creaking at the seams. It is stuffed full of asbestos. Much of the electrics are pre-war.

It is so fire unsafe officials fear it would never pass any health and safety test. So the authorities are finally deciding what to do about it.

For some months the body that runs the building - the House of Commons Commission - has been considering a radical plan to close the Palace for a number of years while a complete refurbishment is carried out. In the meantime Parliament would sit elsewhere.

I am told that on Monday night the MPs and officials on the Commission met and decided to postpone any temporary evacuation of the Palace while further work was done to examine the options.

But, crucially, the idea of leaving the Palace was very much not abandoned.

One very senior figure on the Commission argued hard, my sources say, for the idea to be scrapped entirely. He said there was a real reputational risk for him and for Parliament if they were seen to be spending upwards of £2bn on the building in a time of austerity.

But the majority on the committee took the view that the money would not be spent for seven or eight years; it would be spread over quite a long time; and they had a real duty to protect the Palace and make it safe for current and future generations.

So on Wednesday the Commission will publish a report it commissioned from officials into the various options. These include:

* a long term refurbishment carried out piecemeal every summer holiday when MPs are away.

* a partial decamp during which MPs would sit in the House of Lords while the House of Commons was repaired and vice versa

* a total evacuation to a temporary location for both houses.

One option that has been firmly ruled out has been the idea of abandoning the Palace of Westminster entirely for a new-build parliament elsewhere.

What the Commission has asked for is a more detailed and robust business plan for each of these options, plans that set out the detailed costs involved and are independently audited.

"We cannot hide from this," one source said.

"There is a serious health and safety issue. The House is not fire compliant, it could burn down tomorrow. So we are going to get some serious work done to see how we can fix the problem with the best value for money. Our broad attitude is let's stay in if we can, but also let's go where the figures take us. We are damned if we do and damned if we don't."

The new estimates are expected to take at least a year to draw up so MPs do not expect any decision to be taken until 2014 with the work not likely to begin until 2018 at the earliest.