The real budget for refurbishing the Houses of Parliament must surely be far higher than the £4 billion quoted, writes Paul Finch
I recently stayed overnight at Port Lympne, the Herbert Baker house in Kent designed for plutocrat and local MP Philip Sassoon just before the First World War. Now a hotel, it is a remarkable place, with interiors by Philip Tilden and two rooms with extant wall paintings by Rex Whistler.
Well worth a visit – and not just because of its varied architectural history (it was effectively abandoned after wartime use until 1975). The house is now the centrepiece of the Aspinall Trust outdoor zoo, ranging over 240ha, where, among other creatures, you can see magnificent giraffes, tigers and apes, many of the animals being bred or rescued prior to a return to the wild, and many looked after as part of attempts to prevent species extinction.
The Old Men at the Zoo is a 1961 satire about a society incapable of making decisions, taking place in the context of deteriorating relations with Europe. Sound familiar?
Port Lympne is run with cheery efficiency; I couldn’t help thinking about its fictional opposite: the version depicted in Angus Wilson’s now almost-forgotten 1961 novel, The Old Men at the Zoo. A savage satire about a society incapable of making decisions without suffering from incompetence or self-serving ambition, it takes place in the context of deteriorating relations with continental Europe. Sound familiar?
One of the novel’s characters wants to move the zoo from London to a new site in the countryside, with far greater freedom for the animals. Down in Kent you can see how it works.
Meanwhile, in Whitehall
The old men and women at the Palace of Westminster are providing further parallels to the world of Angus Wilson, as they go about the fraught business of retrofitting the Barry and Pugin masterpiece. While Brexit goes into meltdown, the tribunes of the people ponder the best way of managing a multi-billion pound project, no doubt aspiring to a result which is ‘on time and on budget’.
The equivalent of the Olympic Delivery Authority will oversee the work, led by the former British Property Federation chief exec, Liz Peace. A joint Parliamentary committee has just concluded that, unlike the ODA, the new body should not be given planning powers because Parliament should not be given special treatment. However, this is not a normal planning application, and the committee’s apparent obsession with ‘disabled access’ and ‘staff consultation’ makes you wonder whether they have really thought about the implications of this project for democracy itself, never mind building regulations.
By the way, is it only £4 billion? The real budget must be considerably greater because the quoted sum is only what the restoration and renewal works, overseen by BDP, will cost. Add the new chamber being created by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris in William Whitfield’s Richmond House building at the top of Whitehall. Question: will this be temporary or permanent? Then there are the costs associated with running the House of Lords out of the Powell & Moya’s Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre … plus relocating administrative staff and general messing about.
My advice to MPs, in respect of project costs is: (a) give us the whole truth, but split it up into relevant and understandable elements; (b) include all fees as well as anticipated construction costs; (c) include VAT where relevant (clients and advisers often underestimate this); (d) include an inflation estimate; and (e) include a decent contingency sum, 20 per cent, for example. If the latter is saved, good news. If it is called on, smart to have included it.
Let’s have a dose of honesty, however shocking it might appear in the short term.
Back of the net
Rave reviews for Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium have paid little attention to the architect. So take a bow project architect Tom Jones and Populous. It has been well worth the wait.