A cross-party group of MPs will urge colleagues later this week to back an alternative architectural vision for the £4 billion restoration of the Palace of Westminster, allowing Parliament to remain on site during the works
A letter signed by Conservatives Edward Leigh, Michael Gove and Shailesh Vara, Labour’s Stephen Pound and Alan Meale, and Liberal Democrat John Pugh, calls on fellow-MPs to back an amendment to a draft motion expected to be debated later this month.
The motion endorses the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster for a full decant of Parliament to another location for six years from 2023.
The draft amendment proposed in the letter instead proposes that the Commons and Lords should continue to sit in the Palace of Westminster, in temporary chambers elsewhere within the palace when necessary.
Architect Anthony Delarue, a member of the RIBA-linked Traditional Architecture Group, has suggested that the Commons could meet in the Lords Chamber and that the Lords could relocate to the Royal Gallery, currently used for state receptions, dinners and parliamentary ceremonies, while renovation work progresses.
Delarue, whom Leigh invited to visit the Palace of Westminster and who is acting on a pro bono basis, has suggested that temporary canteens, toilets and office and committee space could be housed in temporary buildings in Old Palace Yard and Abingdon Street Gardens.
Delarue said: ‘I can’t see why doing a variation [of the works], keeping that corridor of hard spaces up the middle [of the Palace] in use, has a material effect on the cost.
‘If it extends the project slightly, yes, there would be some additional costs for preliminaries; but it wouldn’t bring additional costs in terms of temporary work.’
Delarue parliament rethink plan
Under the proposal for a full decant of Parliament, a temporary Commons chamber could be housed the Department of Health’s offices at Richmond House, while the Lords could have a temporary home in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre.
In November, BDP won the contract to refurbish about 15,300m² of office space in House of Commons buildings, including the Norman Shaw building, originally designed as Metropolitan Police headquarters, 1 Derby Gate, and 1 Parliament Street.
The firm is also in the running in the main competition for the refurbishment, along with Allies and Morrison, Foster + Partners and HOK.
Delarue said a principal concern shared by Leigh and other signatories to the letter related to the works’ impact on the ‘spirit of parliament’. MPs serving for one five-year term would never sit in the Palace, while those who continued for a second term would come back into the building ‘having been formed as a parliamentarian in some modern office’.
‘The Houses of Parliament are an iconic symbol of our parliamentary democracy,’ Leigh told the AJ. ‘To abandon it at one of the most critical junctures in our history is senseless.’
He added: ‘Wasting money to build a permanent new chamber that will only temporarily house the Commons is pure folly. In this time of austerity it’s unjustifiable, and we intend to keep a close eye on the costs involved in this project.’