MPs seek pause on Houses of Parliament restoration ahead of new probe

Written by Jim Dunton on 17 March 2017 in News

Treasury Select Committee says it would be “imprudent” for decisions on the multi-billion pound overhaul to be taken before inquiry is complete

No decisions on the multi-billion pound restoration of the Houses of Parliament should be taken until the conclusions of a new inquiry on the project are known, members of the Treasury Select Committee have warned.

The caution brings the committee into direct conflict with MPs on the Public Accounts Committee, who last week urged ministers not to “delay any further” and push for a six-year shutdown of the historic building for a £3.5bn-plus programme of repairs.

Siding with a 2016 report by a joint committee of both houses, the PAC rejected a “partial decant” option for the upgrade work on the Grade I listed building, which would have seen MPs and Lords uprooted in turn while repairs were conducted, and a rolling-repairs option.  

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While the PAC said the case for its preferred option was “crystal clear”, the Treasury Select Committee said neither of the detailed studies on the restoration conducted to date were robust enough, and that more work was needed.

The Treasury committee said it would be January 2019 at the earliest before a business case for the work was ready, and said a more detailed comparison of the costings for the models was vital in the interim.

In particular, it wants comparative net present costs of each of the delivery options to examine their relative price effect, and post-occupation estimated annual operating costs – at 2017 prices – for each option.

It also wants further details on the “disturbance effect” that underscored the undesirability of conducting repairs to the Houses of Parliament with some of its business ongoing.

Committee chair Andrew Tyrie said he had sought some of those details from leader of the House of Commons Sir David Lidington last year, but the information had not been forthcoming.

“This is one of the largest major restorations in the history of the public sector,” he said.

“Apparently, it is likely to cost at least £3.5bn over five-to-eight years.

“This can only be justified to taxpayers if parliament and the public see the evidence required to make an informed decision.

“The committee’s inquiry into this hugely expensive project will challenge and assess the work and conclusions of the existing reports.

“Until such work has been carried out, it would be imprudent for parliament to commit to a specific option.”

Tyrie said he anticipated the new inquiry, which holds its first hearing on April 18, would be “relatively short and specific”.

Last week’s PAC report drew on a 2014 all-options report by consultant Deloitte and a 2016 report from a special joint committee of both houses.

It said maintenance for the Palace of Westminster, as parliament is also known, was currently running at an annual cost of £50m to £60m and that the risk of a “catastrophic failure”, such as fire, flood or sewage inundation, was already high and growing by the month.

The PAC urged the government to reject a rolling repairs programme, costed at £5.7bn and estimated to take up to 32 years, and the partial decant option, costed at up to £4.4bn and expected to take up to 11 years, in favour of “the quickest and least disruptive approach”.

The full-decant option was priced at up to £3.9bn, depending on the specification for upgrade work on the Houses of Parliament.

Under that vision, both houses would relocate from parliament for five-to-eight years, with temporary homes for MPs and the lords mooted as the Department of Health’s Richmond House and the Queen Elizabeth II Centre respectively.

The Treasury Select Committee said it anticipated its inquiry would also examine whether Richmond House would be suitable as a temporary base for the House of Commons.

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