The future of the Palace of Westminster

Lord Norton

During the summer, there were reports that both Houses of Parliament may have to move out to enable renovation of the Palace, which is in a state of some decay, to be undertaken.  A study group appointed by the Management Boards of both Houses has just produced a pre-feasibility study and preliminary strategic business case for the restoration and renewal of the Palace.  It examines different options, including doing nothing, moving both Houses permanently to another site, or a temporary decanting of both Houses while repairs are completed. 

It is clear from the report that doing nothing is not an option.  There are problems with moving permanently to another site, especially one outside of London (especially problematic separating the seats of government and parliament in a parliamentary system).  It looks as if a temporary decant may prove the most feasible option, with the Commons sitting in the northern part of the parliamentary estate (Portcullis House, Norman Shaw buildings) which are unaffected, and the Lords sitting in a building not far away from its existing outlying buildings, such as Millbank House.

The case for change is well put in paragraph 72 of the report: 

‘Considering the age of the Palace of Westminster, the 60+ years that have passed since the partial post-war refurbishment, the long-term under-investment in the fabric and the intensive use to which the Palace is put, it is remarkable that it continues to function.  The signs of wear and tear, the number and frequency of relatively minor floods and mechanical breakdowns, the high cost of maintaining obsolescent equipment and the large sums that are now having to be spent on aggressive maintenance and risk reduction all provide tangible evidence of the looming crisis.  A growing body of surveys, consultancy reports and risk registers point to the future deterioration that will occur and the severe hazards that could occur if fundamental renovation is delayed indefinitely.’

Paragraph 73 is succinct: ‘It is hard to imagine how the Palace will survive for future generations to use and admire without a major mid-life overhaul.’

As may be inferred from the title of the report, everything at this stage is tenative and a final decision on what to do is far from imminent.   A decision, though, cannot be put off for too long.

22 comments for “The future of the Palace of Westminster

  1. Lord Blagger
    31/10/2012 at 10:03 pm

    Perhaps you should take a look at the accounts and how much money has been spent.

    If its that screwed, then the obvious question, who has been pocketing the maintenance money?

  2. Rhodri Mawr
    01/11/2012 at 10:11 am

    I must have been influenced by subliminal comment to have suggested moving it way out of the centre permamently earlier in the year,as I did. I was not aware of this report which is well timed.

    If I had renovated my “office” in 2002 to put more and more wired round it to keep up with all the technological developments since 1995, I would then have found it was obsolescent, if not down right obsolete, by about 2009.

    Wireless communication internet telephoning and so on, are the order of the day. As long as you are near a Wi-fi you are….. communicating, so all my investment in 2002 would have been wasted.

    I’m happy with what I’ve got, as long as it works! That said it is not only the Information technology which is in question.
    It’s the fabric too.

    Public interaction has hugely increased over the last 30 years or so, but you really can’t plan for tourists necessarily being present in the chamber, or can you?!

    I still think that “separating the seats of government and parliament in a parliamentary system” is not really a problem in this age of Information Technology.

    The statistics of physical presence of the
    Civil service bureaaucracy should perhaps be studied in greater detail.

    My own pet theory is that one chamber at least does not need to be there at all, and could do all their voting and debating from their own office in their own home carefully synchronized by highly trained moderators who are few and far between.

    Say for example that Parliament were built in the Thames Valley. Yorkshire is no longer sensible since one of the purposes in doing that was to make it seem more central for the Scots, the whole of the UK, and look what they have done!

    No the Relocation of Offices Bureau (LOB)1960s did good but nobody at that time really expected the Welsh and Scottish to relocate like that, Carwen James and Daffyd Ifan included!

    • Lord Blagger
      01/11/2012 at 4:17 pm

      Or get rid of them completely.

      600 million over 5 years.

      What would you do with your money?

    • thedukeofwaltham
      10/11/2012 at 5:44 pm

      Considering that Parliamentarians insist on retaining physical divisions of the Houses as the method of voting, using as their primary argument the beneficial effects of mingling with ministers, it seems unlikely that they would opt to abolish the corporeality of the assemblies themselves in favour of some manner of digital co-existence!

  3. Paul
    01/11/2012 at 11:15 am

    If MPs and Peers are relocated, the State Opening of Parliament will be interesting.

    • Rhodri Mawr
      03/11/2012 at 10:20 am

      Peers are relocated, the State Opening of Parliament will be interesting

      Down the M3 to Wisley?

  4. Tory Boy
    01/11/2012 at 11:29 am

    When will this be debated in both houses. Surely the Commons chamber can not be accomodated in Portcullis House, Norman Shaw. Neither can the Lords in Millbank House?

    • thedukeofwaltham
      10/11/2012 at 5:45 pm

      This was the pre-feasibility report; it will be followed by a more comprehensive report, which will probably be ready in a few months, and that is presumably when the two Houses will debate their options.

      • Lord Norton
        Lord Norton
        24/11/2012 at 10:05 am

        thedukeofwaltham: I fear it make take longer; the assumption appears to be that no decision will be taken this side of a general election.

  5. Rhodri Mawr
    01/11/2012 at 12:51 pm

    Taking my morning stroll and thinking about the sense of Lord Nrton’s opinion that it would not be possible to move the whole caboodle to a new place, it is manifestly not so that it could not!

    Take Dubai as one much,much finer example of what can be achieved with modern LOGISTICS, in a matter of about ten years.

    Take the Olympic village on more of the scale we are thinking, and it would be entirely feasible to locate the WHOLE of Westminster and its bureaucracy in a rural place called London. The Hackney marshes might be one place, direct from the olympic village.

    What the noble lords would certainly not like
    is the need to “go up to town” to the theatre or the department stores, although
    my knowledge of civil service life is that going up and down has to be done any way by the day, and even back in the evening for a concert at the festival hall.

    No I disagree entirely with the noble lord.
    A new location for the seat of government and its bureaucracy, the key word being LOGISTICS!

    London Gatwick would be no further.

  6. maude elwes
    01/11/2012 at 4:23 pm

    This sticks in the craw. Why was the Palace neglected to this degree? How much tax payers money has been used elsewhere whilst claiming for refurbishment and maintenance of this building? And who came out the winner from it? Someone must have. It didn’t simply vanish. Or, did it?

    It is not rational to suggest moving the entire cast elsewhere in perpetuity. That is madness of the first order. You will never be able to replace a masterpiece like this with today’s incompetence. And then there is that irreplaceable phenomenon, history.

    And all you who have worked there amongst that known of evil asbestos should take a health check at once.

    Only people who despise their heritage could have been so careless of our architectural treasures. And we point the finger at Greece.

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      24/11/2012 at 10:08 am

      maude elwes: It is a good question as to why it has been allowed to fester for so long; I suspect a fear on the part of the authorities as to the reaction of members – there will be strong opposition to moving out, albeit temporarily (though there are precedents). I gather the asbestos is not a problem as long as it is not disturbed. However, given the problems associated with removing it constitute one of the incentives to relocate.

  7. Lord Blagger
    01/11/2012 at 9:52 pm

    And then you hear that Hague has spent 10,000 pounds refurbishing a snake.

    Nothing like knowing the money can be spent on a snake, but not on the disabled who need it.

  8. Gareth Howell
    04/11/2012 at 10:06 am

    It is called the palace of Westminster; the cathedrals of England and Wales, slightly different it is true, were built some 800years ago, when the whole of life went on in there. They were the highest and greatest buildings for the greater glory of of god. Today that same greater glory of god is designed and constructed and called a skyline within which people may work, play, worship, do more or less everything they need to do.

    Those skylines can be built in the space of a few short years through the integration of
    all the engineering disciplines at once; civil, architect,environment, builders all using electronic methods of communication.

    Every new skyline building in and around the city of London, which we may laugh or weep at,becomes part of that greater skyline.

    The design and construction of Whitehall and palace of Westminster were certainly not built for the greater glory of god, but for the good organisation of a burgeoning empire
    which crossed the globe. It was intended to be splendid and to impress.

    A new small city should be built to impress upon the new 21stC the importance and value of democracy, spacious,elegant, away from the existing metropolis, for about 150,000 people in to which the whole bureaucracy of Westminster and Whitehall may be ceremoniously tipped to better work than they are so far.

    It could have its own skyline.

    • maude elwes
      05/11/2012 at 2:49 pm

      And do you also fancy Hackney Marshes in order to more easily be able to reproduce the Washington DC crowd of game players? Central London is so hard to get to on a daily basis and well, in order for those who are unaware of how the other half live, it would definitely assist diversity and help the call for positive discrimination so ardently desired by the equality division.

      Not only that, they could call in all those devoted capitalist to develop special State housing to put up their devotees in order to oversee there is no more letting sharks renting their property, whilst they set up round the corner to draw the tax payers cash as expenses fraudsters are keen on doing.

      Worrying about going up to town to shop is a nonsense, all they will find is a string of tired old brand names shoving their over priced wares at you, the same that can be bought in any mall from Lands End to John O Groats at a third of the price.

      That will make way for more of those 54 billionaires (who have paid only £14.5 million pound in taxes, collectively) we have in this country to stay amongst the elite players they can then invite to dinner to pass on all the cheating lessons between them.

      Astonishing facts:

      I’m sure Blagger and his head for figures will love this little eye opener.

      Tax avoidance, of course, is encouraged in the UK for those special entrepreneurial figures of ours. The ones who put their cash out of harms way off shore and then spend the proceeds out of the UK. You see, we will all benefit from the ‘trickle down’ factor when they do this, so it’s all in our own interests.

      ROTFWL. Or, as Dave likes to email riding companions. It was unpredictable and hard to control, but, such fun? LOL. What a ride that must have been. Addictive, I would have thought.

  9. thedukeofwaltham
    10/11/2012 at 5:46 pm

    I have read the entire report (before noticing this post, actually, though I am a bit late in commenting here), and the scale of the problem is greater than anything most people on this page seem to assume. There are radiators and pipes dating to the 1930s, electrical networks struggle to deal with the demand for power and air cooling is a luxury; “without urgent and significant intervention a major failure of the existing service infrastructure is inevitable, which will disrupt the function of the Palace and is likely to require extended periods to recover the service”. Moreover, the roofs are leaking, fire compartmentation is incomplete and most risers are full of asbestos—this element alone makes a comprehensive maintenance programme important, as clearing asbestos in phases increases the risk of re-contaminating parts of the building previously thought clean. Asbestos makes maintenance much more difficult, time-consuming and costly, as does the intensive use of the building, which ensures that maintenance work can take place only at night, on weekends and during recesses,* placing so many constraints on contractors that they cannot work faster than the situation is deteriorating. The report does point out the serious under-investment in the Palace’s infrastructure over the second half of the 20th century, but it also places great emphasis on “the backlog of maintenance work that has built up over a long period of time, in part because of the way in which the Palace has been managed, but above all because of the great difficulty of carrying out fundamental renovation work on the inside of the Palace while Parliament remains in continuous occupation”.

    * And even the recesses are not managed well: the odd situation in which the Lords rise for the summer recess a week later than the Commons, and return a week later, has the immediate effect that the Palace is empty two weeks less than it would if the two Houses rose together. I am not saying that these two weeks would save the situation, but it’s still puzzling. Are you aware of any practical reason for this staggered scheduling, Lord Norton?

    A final quote I’d like to reproduce here is revealing of the extent of the situation, though perhaps somewhat sensational (as it probably applies to many old buildings): “While the precise cost of rectifying these deficiencies is still unknown, investigations conducted in recent years indicate that it is already in excess of 40% of the insurance reinstatement value of the Palace (approximately £1.8bn). If the Palace were not a listed building of the highest heritage value, its owners would probably be advised to demolish and rebuild.”

    • Lord Blagger
      12/11/2012 at 10:35 am

      Look at the accounts. Why have you been spending tens of millions, and now your coming back and saying, nope, it hasn’t worked, give us more cash.

      There is a fraud going on somewhere.

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      24/11/2012 at 10:11 am

      thedukeof waltham: I don’t know why we have the staggered recesses; I have never thought it made much sense.

  10. Nazma FOURRE
    12/11/2012 at 10:29 pm

    Dear Lord Norton,
    I am sure that her Majesty will be pleased to provide accommodation for the house of lords and Burkingham palace is the best place for the meeting of the lords to be held .I bet her Majesty will approve this idea if she is asked.If you need help to convince her Majesty, please do ask for the recruitment of Junior Lords from European communities who might help to allow this fluctuation of communication to be carried out and to convince her Majesty about the importance of the Lords to be royally accomodated since they are part of the history and stems of the Monarchy.
    God save the Monarchy, the Queen and the lords. God bless the United Kingdom.
    Nazma FOURRE

    Dear Queen,
    I should be grateful if you could kind enough to accomodate the House of lords at Burkingham palace and allow the recruitment of Junior Lords from European Communities .
    Yours faithfully
    Nazma FOURRE

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      24/11/2012 at 10:12 am

      Nazma FOURRE: Well, that’s certainly one idea!

  11. 16/11/2012 at 4:54 pm

    Lord Norton,

    In the great tradition of modern self-centeredness I would like to estimate how long I have to collect my tea without having to settle for a photo with you in front of a fish and chips shop. I wonder if you might bear that small class of persons in mind and give us a heads up as to the window of opportunity when it starts to close…

  12. Nazma FOURRE
    25/11/2012 at 1:50 pm

    Dear Lord Norton,
    Thankyou my blessed lord. Hope one day, some day if her Majesty approves, I shall join the House of Lords. I am so eager to work for my blessed and devoted lords and you are one of my favourites. I hope I do have the blessings of her Majesty to be a lord, should regulations change. I want to much to serve the House of Lords as an European citizen.I want so much to see you all, my blessed and beloved lords. and her Majesty.
    May God hears My prayers and receive your blessings making me be a lord by changing the regulations enabling European citizens to be Lords. I want to serve the House of the Lords, with the best of its interest together with my blessed lords and with every single breath of my soul.Hope one day some day, I shall be invited to serve and see my blessed spiritual family “The Lords”
    May God bless the United Kingdom. May God save the blessed lords and the Queen.
    Nazma FOURRE

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