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Fears £3.5bn Westminster upgrade will bust budget

MPs overseeing the £3.5bn refurbishment of the Palace of Westminister fear the project could be delayed by two years.  

It is feared that rehousing the House of Lords and House of Commons during the work could set the project start date back by as long as two years. 

In its review of the Restoration and Renewal (RNR) Bill, the joint committee overseeing the legislation underpinning the project warned that such a delay could add £350M to the project cost. 

The work is due to begin in the mid-2020s with the House of Lords and House of Commons vacating the building for between six and eight years, design director Andy Piper told New Civil Engineer. 

In the review the Committee expresses “concern and alarm” about “difficulties in preparing alternative accommodation for both houses that might lead to two years’ delay in decant – possibly postponing the moves until 2028.” 

The committee wants a Treasury minister to be appointed to oversee the programme and impose a tighter grip on costs.  

One of the key parts of the programme involves updating antique steam systems, gas lines and water pipes, often laid one on top of another, alongside electrical wiring, broadcasting cables and other vulnerable equipment. 

Many of the systems passed their life expectancy decades ago, and leaks from the steam system could cause significant damage and disruption to Parliament if they happened next to a major power supply. 

Much of the stonework will also need attention. Original the soft Yorkshire limestone chosen for its ability to be ornately carved, not its durability.  

Draft Parliamentary Buildings Bill committee chair Caroline Spelman said: “Restoration and Renewal is the most significant programme Parliament has undertaken since the current Palace of Westminster was rebuilt after 1840. We have a monumental task but also a magnificent opportunity to deliver a Parliament that is more open and accessible and meets the needs of the 21st century and beyond. 

“We also felt the government has been too ‘hands-off’ on the programme up to now. While we recognise this is a Parliamentary programme its successful completion will require very close working with government and in particular the Treasury. That is why we are recommending a Treasury minister take a role on the sponsor body.” 

Only two contracts are in place for the programme at present. One is with BDP which is the principal architect, and one with programme and project manager Jacobs.  

Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, said:“I very much welcome the joint committee’s report, and want to thank all members for their excellent work. I was pleased to give evidence to the committee and I look forward to studying their recommendations closely.

“The Government’s role is to ensure taxpayers’ money is protected, and the measures in this draft bill reflect our determination to ensure the delivery of the restoration and renewal programme runs to time and represents value for money.”

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