The team behind the planned temporary home for the House of Commons has dismissed ‘less destructive’ alternatives proposed by SAVE Britain’s Heritage
AHMM has designed a commons chamber inside Grade II*-listed Richmond House, designed by Whitfield Partners in the 1980s.
But campaign group SAVE Britain’s Heritage says its rival scheme would spare the ‘superb’ 1980s building from being almost completely flattened.
Under the £400 million Parliament-backed proposal – part of a wider BDP-led decant of the Palace of Westminster into parliament’s northern estate – only the Whitehall façade of the Whitfield building would be retained as the interior made way for a debating chamber and office space for hundreds of MPs and support staff.
The House of Commons commission has insisted that, following extensive scrutiny and investigation, the proposed scheme is the most viable option.
AHMM co-founder Paul Monaghan added that the massive intervention into the Whitfield building was justified by the ‘exceptional circumstances’.
SAVE claims its alternative plans show how both the Commons and Lords chambers could be accommodated within existing buildings on the parliamentary estate.
Its proposals, drawn up by Ian Chalk Architects, would see the ‘pop-up’ chambers built within the courtyards of HM Treasury and the Foreign Office, connected by King Charles Street.
SAVE’s document The Temporary Home for MPs Must not be a Folly, also includes alternatives previously prepared by Foster + Partners – a temporary parliament building on Horseguards Parade – and a design by Hopkins showing how a Commons chamber could fit within the existing atrium of that practice’s Portcullis House.
There are alternatives that don’t require expensive wrecking of our modern heritage
The organisation argued there were at least eight alternative sites in the vicinity of Richmond House and Whitehall that ‘did not involve the level of waste, expense and destruction as currently proposed’.
SAVE director Henrietta Billings said: ‘These outline plans show that there are alternative options for housing MPs that don’t require expensive wrecking of our modern heritage.
‘There are so many opportunities for parliament to think creatively and deliver a temporary solution that works in terms of cost, design and sustainability. It’s not too late for a fresh approach.’
SAVE executive president Marcus Binney added: ‘There are quicker, cheaper and much less destructive alternatives than demolition of this beautiful modern building.’
But a spokesperson for the Northern Estate Programme has fired back a strongly worded defence of its own outline plans, adding that, following a year-long inquiry by the joint committee on the Palace of Westminster, all the alternative plots proposed by SAVE had all already been looked at and ruled out.
They said: ‘Of all the options considered within London, only the Northern Estate can deliver the spatial requirements for the House of Commons to operate within a single safe and secure site.
‘The outcome of this work [the inquiry and discussions with the government] recommended the plan to fully vacate the Palace of Westminster while the works took place and concluded that the best solution for the temporary relocation of the House of Commons was at Richmond House within the Northern Estate.
‘[This decision] was also endorsed by the Public Accounts Committee in 2017.’
The spokesperson said that BDP and AHMM’s £1.6 billion masterplan not only covered the chambers but also the ‘associated functions and staff, as well as offices for the MPs’.
Once the Northern Estate had been selected, the team spent more than a year investigating how the collection of historic buildings next to the Palace of Westminster, including two buildings by Norman Shaw and Hopkins’ Portcullis House, could be repurposed.
Putting a chamber within Portcullis House had been explored and found to be unworkable
Specifically, on dropping a Commons Chamber within Portcullis House, the team said the option had been ‘explored and found to be unworkable’, in particular because the atrium space was ‘too small to accommodate the chamber itself and the division lobbies and the public and press galleries’.
Plans that would spread the impact across the estate – saving much of Richmond house – were rejected due to the ‘level of harm’ caused to several listed buildings.
Another option for a series of large temporary blocks, including a major structure in Richmond Terrace, was also ruled out because ’the construction requirements [would be] similar to that for permanent buildings [and] would need dismantling’.
Early options proposed, ut ruled out, for the Northern Estate
The spokesperson went on: ‘We believe it is absolutely right that taxpayers’ money should be spent carefully and with long-term public benefit in mind given the sums involved, and the new building at Richmond House will create a permanent legacy, as opposed to the use of temporary structures which would need to be removed later once the chamber was relocated back into the Palace of Westminster.
‘We believe the designs represent the best approach to maximising public benefits and unlocking the transformation of the wider Parliamentary estate and provide the essential first step to enabling the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster which is a critical priority for Parliament and the nation as a whole.’
AHMM’s Monaghan added that there were numerous obstacles and 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 are also too narrow, he claims, to meet current safe access requirements.
And he said discussions with various heritage bodies about the plans were ongoing. ‘We are still working with Historic England on lots of different issues,’ he said. ‘It feels like a very collaborative process.’
Once MPs return to the Palace of Westminster, numerous options for reusing the temporary debating chamber, including retaining it as an emergency backup or transforming it into a public archive space, museum or conference facility.
New 3m-high railings on Whitehall, part of acting security arrangements, will also be removed once the MPs have moved back to their original home.
©bdp northern estate masterplan