First images of £1.5bn decant for Palace of Westminster renovation revealed

The first images of a planned £1.5 billion Westminster decant have been revealed.

Parliament authorities plan to temporarily shift the House of Commons debating chamber and MPs’ offices into existing buildings on the northern part of the estate.

This would allow the multibillion-pound renovation of the historic Palace of Westminster in the south, backed by new legislation being introduced on Wednesday.

Image showing planned temporary debating chamber (Forbes Massie Studio/PA)

Restoration and Renewal Programme director Tom Healey said staff needed to be move out for the revamp to be as efficient as possible, citing an increase in issues like the leaky roof that temporarily closed the chamber last month.

He said: “A few weeks ago we saw water pouring through the ceiling of the chamber and the sitting had to be suspended.

“The risk of that sort of incident where either part of the building is damaged by fire or becomes unusable or becomes unusable because of water leaks or power failures or whatever, that’s the real risk.

“The building is basically deteriorating more quickly than we than we can repair it under current constraints … at the moment we just can’t keep up with it.”

This week just gets better and better. We’ve now been thrown out of the press gallery and the Commons has been suspended because water is flooding down onto our seats

— Alain Tolhurst (@Alain_Tolhurst) April 4, 2019

Round-the-clock fire safety patrols are already in operation in Westminster to protect the historic Palace from the risk posed by its antiquated wiring and gas pipes.

Some 66 incidents with potential to cause a serious fire have been recorded since 2008 in the Palace, which was itself constructed after a blaze destroyed previous parliamentary buildings in 1834.

Liz Peace, chairwoman of the Restoration and Renewal Programme board, told the Press Association she would do “everything humanly possible” to prevent a Notre Dame-style tragedy.

Notre Dame cathedral fire
French firefighters at the scene of the Notre Dame blaze in Paris (Benoit Moser/Pompiers de Paris/PA)

She said: “We will be hiring the best, they will be experts, and there will be a massive focus on fire suppression during the course of the actual construction.

“Hot work in particular is always seen as the difficulty in these buildings and we will do everything humanly possible, we will expect our contractors to do everything humanly possible, to protect it.

“I think what things like Notre Dame, Glasgow School of Art and Windsor have done is raise awareness of the hazards during that construction period … My goodness, we will all be very, very aware of that.”

MPs and peers passed motions in 2018 to give the green light to restoration work amid growing concerns over the safety of the Palace.

Now a Bill paving the way for the renovation has been tabled, given added impetus by the fire which devastated Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last month.

Brexit
Sir Edward Leigh asks a question about his amendment at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal in the House of Commons (PA)

Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh asked Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions for reassurances that the Bill would not see “a replica of the House of Commons where MPs may be parked for many years”.

Sir Edward asked the PM to ensure the decant “is for as short a time as possible, into a temporary, cost-effective chamber”.

Mrs May replied: “Parliament is recognised all over the world as a symbol of democracy and the decision taken by parliament to approve the restoration and renewal programme was a huge step forward for its protection.

“I’m sure he will agree with me it’s imperative parliament keeps the total bill as low as possible.”

The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill will establish a governance structure for the £4 billion project, a large portion of which involves removing ageing pipes and wiring and replacing them with safer and more modern facilities.

MPs are expected to be “decanted” to Richmond House – the former Whitehall home of the Department of Health – and the Lords to the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Parliament Square in the mid-2020s, with the whole project scheduled for completion early in the following decade.

The Bill will establish a cross-party Estimates Commission of MPs and peers to scrutinise the sponsor body’s spending plans in consultation with the Treasury, to keep a cap on costs.

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