MPs must leave Houses of Parliament to allow £4bn repairs, report says

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The Houses of Parliament are at risk of a catastrophic crisis that could destroy them unless MPs and peers are evacuated for six years to allow £4bn of restoration works, a report said on Thursday.

The study by the Houses of Parliament restoration and renewal committee recommended that both the House of Commons and Lords are moved to other buildings in Westminster to let the repairs take place. It said this was a quicker and better option than allowing MPs and peers to remain in parliament while works were ongoing.

The preferred solution for MPs is a move to Richmond House and the House of Commons Northern Estate on Whitehall, while the Lords would be decanted to the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre.

The committee said it was essential because the Palace of Westminster faced an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore such as a major fire or a succession of failures making parliament uninhabitable.

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and committee spokesman, said: All the evidence points to having to move out of the whole palace simultaneously. That is the lowest risk, most cost-effective and quickest option.

The report presents two options for a full evacuation of parliament, the first with enhanced amenities costing £3.52bn and the second with significantly enhanced facilities at a cost of £3.87bn.

Running repairs are constant at Westminster, but a joint committee of MPs and peers was established last summer to come up with firm proposals on how a more thorough overhaul could take place – including rewiring, and updating some of its Victorian facilities.

The restoration and renewal committee, which includes the former leader of the house Chris Grayling, now the transport secretary, and the Labour leader in the Lords, Lady Smith, has taken evidence from scores of witnesses, including architects and conservation experts as well as MPs and peers themselves.

In a lengthy report, the committee backed the findings of a feasibility report carried out by experts including the consultants Deloitte last year, which suggested that MPs and peers should leave their historic familiar home by the Thames for up to six years.

Downing Street sources insisted Theresa May had not yet made a firm decision on whether to support the committee’s recommendations, but stressed that she recognised the importance of the Palace of Westminster, which is designated a Unesco world heritage site.

A spokeswoman for the prime minister said May had not yet seen the report, but would consider its findings carefully. The prime minister’s view is that we should carefully consider the proposals; we’ll want to hear views from MPs before deciding a direction, she said.

The independent options appraisal, published in 2015, suggested moving to alternative premises temporarily would be cheaper and ultimately more practical than trying to carry out repairs with MPs and peers still in place – a process that it said could take more than three decades.

The Department of Health’s Richmond House building is nearby, though some parliamentarians were alarmed by reports earlier this year of a drinking ban on the premises. The Palace of Westminster has several bars on site.

MPs and peers will consider the report and be given the opportunity to vote on its findings, the culmination of a process that began more than a decade ago as it became increasingly clear that patching up the palace would not be sufficient.

As long ago as 2012, MPs and peers decided that doing nothing was not an option and unless significant conservation work were to be undertaken, major, irreversible damage could be done to the building.

However, if the proposals get the go-ahead, parliamentarians would not pack up and leave until after the 2020 general election, and a detailed budget is not expected to be drawn up until 2018, by which time some parliamentarians fear the cost is likely to rise further.

The Westminster estate includes a hotchpotch of buildings from different eras, from the 900-year-old Westminster Hall, to the modern Portcullis House, with its vast glass atrium, which opened in 2001 and would be unaffected by the repairs programme.

But much of the Lords and the Commons is Victorian, built after the old Palace of Westminster was ravaged by fire in 1834, and has antiquated plumbing, wiring, heating and other infrastructure.

As well as updating the building’s facilities, MPs and peers are keen to make it a more pleasant workplace.

The decision about whether to press ahead with the proposals is one of a series of major spending commitments May will have to consider in the coming months. She is due to make an announcement this month on whether to approve the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, after saying she would review the details, and the government is also expected to make its position clear in the drawn-out debate about whether, and where, to increase airport capacity in the south-east.

May told MPs at Wednesday’s prime minister’s questions, the first after the summer recess, that the way she works is to carefully consider the details of a policy proposal rather than rush to judgment.

News Source TheGuardianNews

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