MPs back six-year shutdown of parliament for "Crossrail-style" upgrade

Written by Jim Dunton on 10 March 2017 in News

Public Accounts Committee says economic case is “crystal clear” for both houses to relocate for the duration of a £3.9bn overhaul

MPs and peers should leave the Houses of Parliament for up to six years while a multibillion-pound package of upgrade work is undertaken on the Grade I listed buildings, members of the Public Accounts Committee have concluded.

A new report from the committee recommended the move as the quickest and most cost-effective way of delivering vital repairs to the buildings – which are at least 150 years old – and described as being in an “extreme state of disrepair”.

The PAC study follows a 2016 report by a joint committee of both houses, and a 2014 independent options appraisal by global consultancy Deloitte, both of which broached the potential of rolling repairs programmes, a partial decant while work was undertaken, and a full shutdown. The joint committee recommended a full shutdown for repairs. Deloitte’s did not weigh the options against each other. 

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The PAC estimated the cost of the measure at up to £3.9bn and recommended a programme managed on the same “two-tier delivery authority” lines as the under-construction trans-capital rail link Crossrail and the London 2012 Olympics.

That system sees the client  – or sponsor body – specify a project’s high-level requirements, but then leaves the delivery authority to get on with the work “unencumbered” by micromanagement and specification changes.

The committee said evidence from Crossrail suggested that the sponsor body should have a representative embedded within the delivery authority who had an “absolute working knowledge of where the risks are and how they are being managed”. It said that such a model would allow parliament to hold the delivery organisation to account during the programme. 

The PAC said maintenance for parliament was currently running at an annual cost of £50m to £60m and that the risk of a “catastrophic failure”, such as s fire, flood or sewage inundation, was high and growing by the month.

It concluded the case was “crystal clear” that a full decant of MPs and Lords for the duration of restoration work was the most efficient and economic choice and that relocating the work of both houses to new temporary homes would be the quickest and least disruptive approach.

Committee chair Meg Hillier said delaying a decision on how the renovation work should be carried out would only add to the costs and risks.

“The longer the House of Commons spends mulling new or alternative options, the greater the chance that public money is wasted,” she said.

“Clearly there are many details to be agreed and difficult choices will need to be made as restoration and renewal progresses. Effective oversight and clear communication will be essential to its success.

“This will not be parliament's last chance to scrutinise this complex and challenging project and the Public Accounts Committee will be watching costs closely to ensure taxpayers get the best deal."

The Department of Health’s Richmond House building in Whitehall and the Queen Elizabeth II Centre opposite Westminster Abbey are contenders for temporarily rehousing the House of Commons and House of Lords respectively, should the full decant option be pursued.

According to the Deloitte report, rolling repairs to the Houses of Parliament conducted without MPs or peers being required to leave the site could take up to 32 years, and cost up to £5.7bn.

The partial decant option would see one house at a time relocated outside of parliament while work was undertaken, and was predicted to take up to 11 years and cost up to £4.4bn.

Tellingly, following this week's budget, the PAC said it would be vital for the government to make sure a "strong communications plan" was in place to "actively communicate the benefits of the project to all stakeholders, including MPs, peers, staff and the wider public".

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Hmmm (not verified)

Submitted on 10 March, 2017 - 14:26
Time for MPs to "hot desk"? Or "hot office"? Moving parliament to other parts of the country during this period could also guard against a London-centric view and provide a much-needed opportunity to see how the rest of the country lives and works.

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