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.