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AHMM reveals final designs for controversial Parliament upgrade


Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) has revealed its final designs for the first wave of Parliament’s restoration, including contentious plans for a temporary House of Commons chamber 

Planning applications have now been submitted to Westminster Council for the group of buildings along Parliament Street and Whitehall.

The proposal is the first step in the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster and includes not only a new chamber but temporary workspace for all 650 MPs and their staff within a single secure site.

These will be housed by substantially redeveloping Grade II-listed Richmond House, a decision that has angered heritage campaigners, who argue the building will essentially be gutted for a temporary chamber.

The plan retains key frontages visible to the public, such as the Richmond Terrace and the Whitehall façade, and reveals internally the full scale of the Whitehall façade with a triple-height central lobby space.

Public consultation was launched on the proposals in May 2019 and a number of changes to the proposals have been made as a result.

The major change is that the submitted proposals no longer include a security pavilion in front of Richmond House.

The pavilion was felt to block views of Richmond House’s Whitehall façade and the security functions are to be incorporated into the adjacent 85 Whitehall/54 Parliament Street.

The building, which until 2017 was home to the Department for Health, was designed by Whitfield Partners in the early 1980s.

Practice founder William Whitfield died earlier this year at the age of 98. His Guardian obituary said of Richmond House: ‘On this fearsomely awkward and sensitive site a design of skill and complexity was achieved.’ 

SAVE Britain’s Heritage said its the demolition and re-development of Whitfield’s building for a temporary MPs chamber was ‘destructive, wasteful and extravagant’.

Calculations by Mark Hines Architects suggest a chamber of the same size could be fitted into the courtyard of Richmond House with offices for 215 MPs and committee rooms provided in the existing Richmond House, at less than a tenth of the official scheme’s £1.6 billion cost, according to SAVE.

‘It’s not only at the financial cost but also at the carbon cost that must be scrutinised,’ said Henrietta Billings, SAVE’s director. ‘Richmond House is only some 30 years old and represents a significant carbon investment of 16,500 tonnes of CO2, to which would be added the massive carbon emissions impact of demolition and rebuilding and transport of building material to the site.’

In June, AHMM co-founder Paul Monaghan said that overwhelming change to the Whitfield building was justified by the exceptional circumstances.

He added that there were numerous problems with any attempt to reuse Richmond House, not least the low floor-to-ceiling heights and small underfloor void. The width of the stair towers were also too narrow, he claimed.

The plan is being overseen by the Shadow Sponsor Board of the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster. Liz Peace, the board’s chair, said: ‘The designs will create an exceptional and lasting legacy for Parliament, long after the House of Commons has returned back into the palace and ensure that all MPs can work from a single, secure site which is a key requirement during the decant period.’ 

The future of the temporary chamber after the House of Commons has been revamped is yet to be decided but the plan is that it can be adapted for a range of uses. Among the suggestions are for it to be a back-up chamber, a debating venue for schools, an exhibition space and conference facility.

SAVE argues that because the UK government has committed to a zero emissions target by 2050, no final decision on a temporary chamber should be made until Parliament has commissioned an independent life-cycle carbon appraisal of the proposals as they currently stand.

The just-submitted proposal for the Northern Estate will begin on site in 2020 meaning that works to the Palace of Westminster would begin in the mid-2020s, assuming planning permission is given.

SUBMITTED: Final designs for AHMM's Parliament upgrade (November 2019)

SUBMITTED: Final designs for AHMM’s Parliament upgrade (November 2019)

Source: ©secchi smith

SUBMITTED: Final designs for AHMM’s Parliament upgrade (November 2019)

Other aspects of the submitted plan include: 

  • Improvements to the Grade I-listed Norman Shaw North Building, with a new lightweight glass atrium created in the courtyard
  • A new building within the existing courtyard of the Grade II* Norman Shaw South Building, which will become office space for MPs and staff
  • Improvements to the rear elevations of the buildings fronting Canon Row and at numbers 2 and 3 Parliament Street 
  • A link to connect Portcullis House with the wider Northern Estate, including expanded catering facilities
  • The complete remodelling of the rear 1980s elevation of 1 Parliament Street to provide additional flexible, modern workspace.



Readers' comments (6)

  • This is a disgusting expense in these difficult times; we're (the tax payer) essentially paying for a refurbishment AND a new (temporary) parliament building. The Palace of Westminster should be turned into a museum and a new building fit for purpose should be built outside London.

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  • Simon Devlin

    Why is this continuing? Is there genuinely no alternative in another city? Wasn't there a scheme that was a fraction of the price and based on a boat on the thames adjacent to the Houses of Parliament. The scheme seems to dominate the listed building and for a 'temporary' home for the government seems excessive.

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  • Moving the Houses of Parliament to Tamworth or Birmingham is a ridiculous idea. London is the international heart of this country. Moving part of the BBC to Stratford was an accountants idea. Every time something important happens they are based in a gazebo on the lawns opposite Parliament!

    But in the light of the toxic debates over Brexit, how about moving the House of Commons debating chamber to the Conference Centre on the other side of Parliament Sq? Every MP would get a seat. Ironically it would look like the European Parliament?! And it would be easy to see who is in the tea rooms and bars?! They could move there while the rehab goes on?

    Richmond House could be easily converted into more offices without destroying a fine building, at less cost and carbon debt?

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  • An interesting scheme, in a very demanding location.
    Rather a pity though, that the proposed roof design appears not to have received the level of consideration given to the facades.
    I could imagine a more sculptural roof, that could enter into a more interesting visual dialogue with the adjacent buildings.

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  • Moving parliament to another city would cost multiple what the Richmond House project will cost. It isn't just about moving 650 MPs, there are MPs' staff, the House of Commons staff, catering, security, and the Lords, too. Then there is the question of Ministers and their staff - they have to be near Parliament. So hundreds, probably thousands of civil servants would need to move, and all with their families. Then the media would have to follow. So, all in all, probably 20,000 workers, as a very, very low estimate, and it could be 50 or 60,000 people needing offices, homes, transport, schools, healthcare.

    Anyone who thinks moving Parliament out of London is an answer should take a few more minutes to think about it.

    On Richmond House, I don't believe it is an outstanding building in any sense, whether artistic or practical. But that's a matter of taste, I suppose.

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  • The Government should be moved to Leeds, then the Northern Powerhouse would get the much need interest required from our ruling elites. They could practice what they preach and sell off the Houses of Parliament to be converted into luxury flats, which would pay for the refurb and the move. I'm sure London would survive.

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