MPs must vacate the failing Palace of Westminster for six years to make way for urgent repairs to be made, a senior committee has urged.
While the medieval and Victorian structure that forms the Palace is not at risk of total structural failure – there is no immediate threat of foundations failling or of walls or roofs collapsing – its poor state is “an impending crisis which we cannot ignore”, warned the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster.
“There is a substantial and growing risk of either a single, catastrophic event, such as a major fire, or a succession of incremental failures in essential systems which would lead to Parliament no longer being able to occupy the Palace,” the committee said in a report released today.
It went on to agree with a 2015 report by a consortium of experts comprising consultant Aecom, structures specialist HOK and financial giant Deloitte. Last year it found thatf the Palace remained inhabited, a rolling programme of works would last 32 years and cost £5.7bn in 2014 figures.
Alternatively, if MPs and peers move out, extensive work to repair decaying stonework, drainage problems, roof damage, corrosion and ageing electrical systems could be delivered in six years and for a much reduced cost of £3.5bn, said the earlier report.
Today, the committee concluded: “The current ‘patch and mend’ approach to maintaining the Palace is no longer sustainable and recommends that a major programme of works is now essential, and that Parliament must enable the next stage of urgent and vital preparatory work to go ahead so as to minimise costs and reduce further risks.”
“All the evidence points to having to move out of the whole Palace simultaneously,” said committee spokesperson Chris Bryant MP. “That is the lowest risk, most cost-effective and quickest option.”
The committee concluded that the best decant solution for the House of Commons would be a solution based around Richmond House and the House of Commons’ Northern Estate. The best decant solution for the House of Lords would be the establishment of a temporary Chamber and supporting offices in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre.
It went on to recommend that Parliament first established a delivery authority to develop a full business case and prepare a final budget for Parliament’s approval, before the final go-ahead is given for the works to start during the 2020 Parliament.
The Palace has not had a major renovation of its mechanical and electrical services since it was built in the mid-1800s, leading to a substantial and growing risk that a catastrophic event such as a major fire, or incremental system failures, will lead to the building being uninhabitable.