Palace of Westminster: plans to decant Lords revived

A plan to temporarily move the House of Lords to a nearby conference centre has been revived, less than two years after it was dropped.

The body in charge of revamping the Palace of Westminster has recommended that the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Conference Centre “remain[s] the preferred venue for the House of Lords”, if staff at the Lords make way for the work to take place.

The suggestion is a significant challenge to the government after housing secretary Michael Gove categorically ruled out moving the House to the nearby conference centre just 21 months ago. Instead, he suggested peers could be moved out of London to boost other parts of the UK.

But the Restoration and Renewal Client Board has stood by recommendations made by the Restoration and Renewal (R&R) Group to stick with that proposal.

By next year, it will bring “a detailed, robust and fully costed plan” to the Houses of Parliament for the project, which will involve assessments of three proposals:

  • a full decant of the Houses of Parliament;
  • continued presence in the Houses while the renovation works are going on; or
  • rolling works to deliver enhanced maintenance and improvement to the site.

Under options one and three, the board has recommended that the House of Lords decants to the conference centre on the other side of Parliament Square and that the House of Commons decants to Richmond House in Whitehall.

Option one, which would see staff on both sites vacating for the duration of the work, would see most of the staff leave the House of Lords for around 11 years. But staff would keep using the southern estate, which includes Millbank House, Fielden House and Old Palace Yard.

Staff at the House of Commons, except those in the northern estate, would decant for between nine and 10 years.

The board warns that the second option, which would see most staff stay on site while the work takes place, would entail “significantly higher” health and safety risks to those working there . It would also require “greater mitigation, at an increased cost”.

A report published in February 2022 warned that the second option could take up to 76 years to complete, with costs expected to reach up to £22bn, in comparison with £13bn if the site was decanted.

“Nevertheless, we consider that in order to achieve lasting and properly informed decisions on the way forward for the programme, it is important that we can fully articulate and quantify the risks and related mitigations associated with all of the options,” R&R said.

“It is for this reason that we have fully supported the programme board’s recommendation to take continued presence forward for further detailed work.”

By next year, R&R will also assess the merits of a third option: to deliver maintenance to the site as it is needed. It will assess the timescales, plus the associated health and safety risks.

Although the third option “would be likely” to take longer than the two other options, with benefits set to take longer to realise, the body said there would be “greater parliamentary control” over the programme.

The delays to the Palace of Westminster revamp have prompted substantial frustration among MPs, members of the public and trade unions. Last month, representatives from three unions warned that the delays increased the risk of a “catastrophic and potentially life-threatening incident” at the site.

In 2022, a government committee warned that uncertainty over the project had led to more than £200m of unnecessary spending.

Construction News approached the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for comment.

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