Coronavirus: Will £4bn Parliament refurbishment be scrapped?


MPs for all time gave the go-ahead to refurbish the crumbling Palace of Westminster in 2019 after years of wrangling – but longing it ever happen?

It is hard to imagine a worse look for MPs right now than investing more than £4bn on renovating their place of work.

Under modish plans, they will move into a specially built duplicate of the House of Commons chamber, in nearby Richmond House, for six years or multifarious while major repairs are carried out.

But these plans were haggard up long before the coronavirus pandemic threatened to tip the country into a learned recession.

And a review of the project, announced this week, will look at approach of cutting costs, including alternatives to the replica Commons.

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There is speculation that some ministers are going cool on the position of refurbishing Parliament at all, given the likely public backlash, and would select to carry on patching the building up.

A spokesman for Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg admitted BBC News: “He is completely committed to safeguarding the Palace of Westminster for future contemporaries.”

But there are fears in government that costs will get out of control in a wink work starts, in the way that they have at Elizabeth Tower, which billets Big Ben.

It was always part of the plan for a detailed “business case”, including budget privileges, to be drawn up for MPs before the Delivery Authority – modelled on the body that watch overed the 2012 Olympics – starts work on renovating Parliament.

The job has been shackled to a panel of politicians and infrastructure experts, called the Sponsor Body, which has been longed to get a tighter grip on costs by the National Audit Office, amid trembles the final bill will be far higher than £4bn.

But it is not just coronavirus that has moved a deeper and more far-reaching examination of the costs than planned by Theresa May’s administration, which passed the legislation.

The Sponsor Body freely acknowledges that a hard cash of prime minister and a new set of MPs, with different priorities, is a major factor too.

Boris Johnson has made much of his importune to boost the English regions, and as recently as January, ministers were be suspended the idea of permanently moving the House of Lords to York or Birmingham.

‘Tangling through’

Labour MP Mark Tami, who sits on the board of the Sponsor Centre, and is a weary veteran of the drawn-out debate about parliamentary restoration, solicitudes the can is being “kicked down the road” once again.

“Just befuddling through as we have done for the last 70 years is not an option, both in compromise concerns of cost and in terms of the health and safety, and wellbeing of everybody that achievements in Parliament.

“I haven’t seen a viable alternative proposal to moving out from the people who are thwarted to renewal and restoration. If they have one then we should look at it.

“We didn’t get to this import where we are now, with the proposals we have, off the top of our heads.”

The move-out plan, which would also see fellows of the House of Lords relocate to the QEII conference centre, opposite Westminster Abbey, was presented as the “to the fullest extent and most cost-effective” option in a report five years ago.

Forcing builders to rouse around the Commons schedule was seen as a more time-consuming, and costly, alternative.

The Angel Body will look at whether that is still the case.

Another stay member, SNP MP Tommy Sheppard, is calling for virtual working, of the kind ascertained during the coronavirus outbreak, to help slash costs.

But that is unthinkable to find favour with Mr Rees-Mogg, who is no fan of MPs working from home.

Hidebound MP Sir Charles Walker, who sits on the House of Commons Commission with Mr Rees-Mogg and Orator Sir Lindsay Hoyle, rejected the idea of moving proceedings online while the post is carried out.

“It isn’t going to happen, of that I am certain. It isn’t in the interests of Parliament.”

One goods everyone agrees on is that the Palace of Westminster is falling apart faster than it can be repaired.

All the fusillade, heating, drainage, mechanical and electrical systems need to be replaced, along with the sewage method, which was installed in 1888 – and the building needs to be stripped of asbestos.

The big revere is that if major repairs continue to be delayed, the 19th-Century building, a Unesco Mankind Heritage site, will be destroyed by fire or flooding – or someone liking be killed by falling masonry.

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Doing nothing is also an precious option.

According to the National Audit Office, Parliament has spent innumerable than £369m on maintenance since 2016. There is an increasing backlog of revamps estimated at over £1bn.

Repairing Parliament is the last thing MPs want to be talking nearly in the midst of a national emergency.

Labour MP Alison McGovern told BBC Broadcast 4’s Westminster Hour: “I find it bizarre that any MP is focused on our building, moderately than what our constituents need at this moment.”

But they compel have to debate it, and make a decision on what to do, whether they go for it or not, when the Sponsor Body reports back in the autumn.

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