MoD car park standoff could delay Palace of Westminster refurb
Committee says department’s refusal to engage on key site for Richmond House redevelopment could also add £350m to project cost
The Ministry of Defence's Main Building HQ Credit: PA
The Ministry of Defence has been accused of exacerbating delays to the refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster and potentially adding £350m to the project cost by failing to engage with planning contingencies for the work.
A report from parliament’s Joint Committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill says the department has acted in an obstructive manner in relation to the potential use of a car park next to its Main Building headquarters.
As part of the multi-billion pound restoration and renewal of the Houses of Parliament, MPs and peers are expected to be temporarily housed in new chambers – with the Commons due to move to Richmond House in Whitehall, which was the Department of Health’s headquarters until 2017. The House of Lords is set to relocate to the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre.
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A 2016 estimate costed the refurbishment and renewal project at between £3.5bn and £7bn, depending on whether MPs and Lords insisted on remaining in the building while work was carried out. Last year, parliament voted to proceed with the project on the basis that relocating parliamentary business for the duration of the project was the best and most straightforward option.
It was initally proposed that Richmond House be converted for use as the temporary Commons chamber, but the new plan is to demolish all but the façade of the grade II listed 1980s building to create space for MPs.
But uncertainty over whether construction crews will be able to use the MoD car park between Richmond house and the main building for logistics is causing a significant headache to the programme, according to the joint committee report.
The committee said work had been “postulated on the contractors being able to get access” to the car park for deliveries to the construction site and for temporary accommodation for the build.
“However, all efforts to discuss these plans with the Ministry of Defence had been met with a refusal to engage – in contrast to the helpful attitude displayed by another neighbour, Scotland Yard,” the report said.
“There may well be significant security reasons for not allowing this area to be used during the reconstruction of Richmond House, but that had not been clearly stated.
“Although it would be possible to work around the loss of this land, because of the need to move access arrangements and dismantle and rebuild accommodation as the works developed, there would be significant extra costs – we were told in the region of £350 million – and delay (possibly resulting in decant being postponed for several years, until 2028).”
The joint committee said that House of Commons officials had not been able to make progress for a “considerable time”, but that Cabinet Office minister David Lidington was now in discussion with the MoD.
“The leader of the House [Andrea Leadsom] assured us that serious engagement was now under way,” it said.
“Unfortunately, the delay and uncertainty caused by the failure of the ministry to engage with the house administration had already resulted in the need to draw up alternative plans without knowing whether they might be needed and to what extent any issues identified by the Ministry of Defence might be accommodated.”
The report also noted other potential obstacles to the redevelopment, including the potential for campaigners objecting to the redevelopment of Richmond House to force a public inquiry on the move.
An MoD spokesperson said the department was working closely with the teams responsible for parliament’s refurbishment to resolve the situation and that defence secretary Gavin Williamson had written to the Cabinet Office to outline its position.
“While we have security and operational concerns about building activity being undertaken in immediate proximity of the highly sensitive MoD and Metropolitan Police buildings, we are engaging with the parliamentary authorities and the Cabinet Office to resolve the situation,” they said.
“We hope to find a solution which ensures value for money to the taxpayer and does not compromise national security.”
This article was updated at 13:50 on 27 March to include a response from the Ministry of Defence.
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