Whitehall nuclear bunker could delay Parliament restoration project, MPs warn

A secret nuclear bunker under Whitehall could delay a restoration project on the parliamentary estate, MPs have warned.

The crisis command centre under the Ministry of Defence is at the centre of concerns over the planned use of the department’s car park for work on Richmond House.

MPs plan to use 79 Whitehall as a temporary debating chamber when they decant from the Palace of Westminster as part of a multibillion-pound restoration project.

But a committee hearing into the work was told plans are being redrawn to exclude the MoD car park if access is not granted for the Northern Estates Project on “security grounds”.

Senior Labour MP Meg Hillier, a member of the committee, said the plans could be “derailed” if the MoD car park is not secured.

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, appearing before the joint committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings Bill, said she “deeply” regrets costs are already being incurred redrawing plans to exclude the MoD car park and she has tried “extremely hard” to resolve the issue.

She said: “I would like to see urgent resolution one way or another specifically because we do need to know exactly what we’re in for, and if it is going to exclude the MoD car park then the project needs to know that.”

Mrs Leadsom acknowledged redrawing the plans will incur “significant costs”, but said: “At the same time, obviously, I think we would all appreciate that if there are very genuine issues of national security at stake then of course those must be accommodated.

“But if that is the case we do need a very clear direction soon, because the delay in that clear decision is itself costing time and effort and money.”

Labour former Cabinet minister Lord Blunkett, a member of the committee, said: “Let’s be clear so that we don’t mislead anybody: we all know that there’s been a bunker under there, we’ve known that there’s one in Gloucestershire as well.

“I used to say when I was home secretary, the last place on God’s Earth I’d want to be, let alone take my family, would be the bunker under the MoD. I mean it is insane.

“People have just got to get real on this and come into the real world.”