Defunct ferries could act as a temporary home for MPs while works are carried out to repair the Houses of Parliament, according to a new scheme proposedby marine engineers.
The scheme to convert three ferries into a floating temporary parliament for six years has been proposed by marine engineer Beckett Rankine.
The Woolwich ferries are due to be sold off by owner Transport for London later this year, when they go out of service. Beckett Rankine director Tim Beckett said they could be transformed by the end of 2019.
Beckett said the boats would otherwise be sold off for scrap and fetch around £40,000 each.
He said reusing the existing infrastructure would be a perfect way for the government to mitigate some of the cost of renovating the Houses of Parliament.
“You sometimes need to look at things a bit more imaginatively, and this is an example of that,” said Beckett. “With this idea, the MPs could show they understand austerity and that it applies to them too.
“It doesn’t mean they should have temporary facilities which aren’t fit, but it does mean that they should look to be sustainable and repurpose existing infrastructure.”
Becket said both chambers could be fitted on to the boats with “room to spare” allowing meeting rooms to also be included in the design.
One of the main concerns with reusing the ferries is security. He said the starting point was to make them as secure, or more secure, than the existing building. Backett Rankine has appointed security specialist Securewest International to carry out an assessment of what would be required to make the ferries safe.
“There’s no reason why it can’t be made more secure than the current situation,” he said. “The sort of floating boom that we are envisaging is like the type the US Navy uses for its warships, it has catch nets on top of it.
“In terms of an attack, the ferries are subdivided and pretty hard to sink. They’re designed for travelling rather than being tied up so they exceed what is required for static vessels. There would be three links to the shore, so you’ve got pretty quick access to land.”
He said at present, the Houses of Parliament lacks features like bullet proof glass, but such measures could be introduced onto the ferries.
Initial estimates have put the cost of transforming the boats at around £55M, and much of the accomodation could be prefabricated and installed on the ferries when they had been stripped back and prepared he said.
Rankine said that if renovation works at the Palace of Westminster overran, the cost of remaining on the ferries would not increase, unlike the additional cost of rent should the MPs be housed in an existing building. He also said the ferries could be sold off when they were no longer needed, recouping some of the initial cost.
Beckett envisages the ferries could be moored in the Thames, outside the existing Houses of Parliament with access via covered tunnels through the main building. Access routes could be adjusted to accommodate the construction work. An alternative route could be introduced through Victoria Gardens next to the Palace of Westminster, he said.
Becket claimed that river authority Port of London Authority would would allow a temporary mooring for the duration of the renovation works.