A multi-million-pound standoff over whether contractors redeveloping the Department for Health’s former headquarters into a temporary House of Commons chamber can use an adjacent Ministry of Defence car park for the project has been resolved, MPs have been told.
MoD perm sec Stephen Lovegrove has told the chair of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that meetings with the Cabinet Office and representatives from the Parliamentary Estate had made “significant progress” and that he was confident the site could be made available.
Earlier this year it emerged that the Richmond House project – which will pave the way for the restoration and upgrading of the Palace of Westminster – could face additional costs of £350m if it was not allowed use the MoD car park, adjacent to its Main Building on Whitehall.
A report from parliament’s Joint Committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill said in March that the department had acted in an obstructive way that risked exacerbating delays to the project and hiking its cost.
“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.
In his letter to PAC chair Meg Hillier earlier this week, Lovegrove said he was “very pleased to say that very significant progress has been made” following new discussions with the Parliamentary Estate and Cabinet Office.
“Inevitably these discussions are increasingly detailed as the plans of how the car park will be used become more mature,” he said.
“But the progress already achieved means that I am confident that, subject to planning consent, the car park can be made available to support the proposed redevelopment of Richmond House while reducing the security and operational impact on the MoD to manageable levels.”
In their stinging criticism of the MoD in March, MPs on the joint committee accepted that the ministry could have “significant security reasons” for not allowing construction workers to use the car park. However they said those reasons “had not been clearly stated”.
The overall programme to refurbish the Palace of Westminster is expected to take around 10 years and cost between £3.5bn and £7bn – at 2014 prices. While MPs will move to a new chamber in Richmond House, the House of Lords will move to the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre.
Earlier this month architects behind the Richmond House plans, which will essentially see all but the Whitehall façade of the grade II*-listed building demolished, revealed their proposals for the redeveloped structure, including the new Commons chamber.
The planning application referred to in Lovegrove’s letter is expected to be submitted to Westminster City Council later this year.