BBC News

Where could MPs go if Parliament is closed for repairs?

By Pippa Simm
Political reporter

Published
image captionThe stone facade on Westminster Hall's exterior crumbles to the touch

The Houses of Parliament are in a serious state of disrepair, with Commons Speaker John Bercow warning that the Grade I listed building may have to be "abandoned" in two decades unless essential works are carried out.

It is estimated that up to £3bn may be needed to fix our Parliament, which suffers from flooding, crumbling walls and asbestos.

An independent review has been tasked with considering three options to tackle the significant restoration needed, and is due to report back in the summer.

Options on the table include gradual and indefinite repairs while Parliament is still occupied, a more substantial programme of rolling repairs but still working around continued use of the estate, or vacating Parliament until the restoration is complete to allow untrammelled access to the site.

A decision in principle is expected in 2016. But if it concludes that our 650 MPs and nearly 800 peers need to carry out their parliamentary duties elsewhere for several years, where would be big enough to cater for them all?

Well, here are five (largely speculative) options.

image captionNot as easy on the eye as the Palace of Westminster, but it's nearby at least

1. Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre

This Westminster venue has been mooted as the likely front runner to play host to our homeless elected representatives and lordships.

Opened in 1986, the QEII centre is the largest venue of its kind in central London with a capacity of up to 2,500 - and being just a few moments walk from Parliament, it's in an ideal location.

With MPs' offices, government departments and civil service buildings in the vicinity it would cause the least disruption to their day-to-day parliamentary activities.

The centre has played host to numerous high profile events, such as the Iraq Inquiry, the opening hearing of the Princess Diana inquest, BBC Sports Personality of the Year, summits and company AGMs. So in that sense, it should be well equipped.

That said, Labour has said the building could be sold off to help pay down the deficit, if it wins power - so could MPs end up back on the streets for a second time...?

Journey time from Westminster: About a minute's walk

image copyrightODA
image captionQuick game of hockey, anyone?

2. Olympic Park media centre

Forget 'Go West', Parliament could up sticks and go east. The former press centre and broadcast centres for the 2012 London Olympic Games have also been suggested as a possible interim law-making venue (perhaps unsurprisingly by some of the area's MPs).

Pros? Well it's certainly big enough, offering 1.2m sq ft of commercial space in the Olympic Park in Stratford. So there's clearly plenty of space to set up two makeshift debating chambers: one for MPs and the other for peers. The site would also be big enough to hold all of the indispensible parliamentary staff who work behind the scenes to keep Parliament running.

Not to mention there's the added benefits of the top-grade sports facilities nearby. Parliamentary ping-pong could take on a literal meaning. MPs might like to take a dip in the pool or knock a ball about on the tennis courts on their breaks. Commons Speaker John Bercow and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, keen tennis players, would approve, surely?

Journey time from Westminster: 46 minutes

image captionThe Queen wouldn't have far to go for the State Opening of Parliament

3. Buckingham Palace

The British constitution aside, Buckingham Palace would certainly have plenty of room to take in our parliamentarians. They'd need to be on their best behaviour, of course.

At 108m long, 120m deep and 24m high, the Palace is comprised of 775 rooms, including 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms.

The Ballroom, the largest multi-purpose room in the Palace, would likely be the best spot for a debating chamber. Opened in 1856, it plays host to the State Banquet and the annual Diplomatic Reception, attended by 1,500 guests, as well as a concert hall for memorial concerts and arts performances.

It's also got the added benefit of being close to Whitehall and Downing Street; although what the Queen would make of this idea is unsure. She wouldn't have far to go for the State Opening of Parliament, at least.

The building's central London location also means it's a hop, skip and a jump away from Downing Street and other government departments, so ministers wouldn't have too far to travel if they're summoned by the Speaker to make urgent statements in the House.

Journey time from Westminster: 15 minutes

image copyrightPA
image captionThe library's reading rooms might provide some home comforts to uprooted MPs

4. Birmingham Library

Relocating Parliament to Birmingham is an idea promoted by some MPs (mainly Conservative Michael Fabricant and Labour's Gisela Stuart whose constituencies are in and around the area).

And where better than the city's new library, which was shortlisted for the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize and voted Britain's favourite new building for 2014 in a BBC online poll.

Whilst a rather more modern building than the Palace of Westminster, its central location makes it an attractive proposition, not to mention the venue is already equipped to cater for meetings, conferences, banquets and weddings or civil ceremonies.

image copyright@GiselaStuart

The circular interior would certainly be a departure from the adversarial set-up of the House of Commons chamber but, who knows, it could encourage a more conciliatory tone at Prime Minister's Questions, perhaps? Hmm, on second thoughts...

One slight drawback would be that the library's opening hours are expected to be cut by nearly a half to save money. It's common for MPs and peers to sit late into the night, but would that be maintainable in another venue?

Journey time from Westminster: About two hours

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe town hall bears a striking resemblance to the Palace of Westminster

5. Manchester Town Hall

Already host to the BBC's Antiques Roadshow and used as a double for parts of the Palace of Westminster when Meryl Streep played Margaret Thatcher in the Iron Lady, Manchester's Town Hall could be just the ticket to double up as the UK's temporary Parliament.

With its clock tower and neo-Gothic architecture, the Grade I listed building certainly looks the part, which may make MPs and peers feel more at home.

Designed by architect Alfred Waterhouse and completed in 1877, the town hall is situated in Albert Square in the centre of the city. There are numerous grand ceremonial rooms, and the venue even offers a "sumptuous afternoon tea", which should be of comfort to parliamentarians used to such perks.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMPs may take comfort from familiar-looking surroundings

Like Birmingham, the city ticks the "outside London" box - and it would drastically reduce the commuting time of MPs who come from further afield.

Although, with a journey time of almost three hours from London, it could cause a headache for the PM and ministers who'd need to split their time between the two cities.

Other potential downsides? House prices in the area could be pushed up, and there would of course be an influx of politicians in the city. But supporters of moving Parliament to the north of England say it could give a boost to the economy.

Journey time from Westminster: 2 hours 50 minutes

Related Topics

  • House of Commons
  • UK Parliament
  • House of Lords

More on this story

  • Speaker John Bercow warns over Parliament repairs

  • House of Parliament repair work and costs: John Ware