First images of temporary House of Commons chamber revealed

Order, order! First images of temporary House of Commons chamber where MPs will be housed for £1.5bn Westminster renovation are revealed

  • MPs will move to Richmond House, the former Whitehall home of the Department of Health by the mid 2020s
  • Peers will move to the Queen Elizabeth II centre while the massive refurbishment operation takes place 
  • Parliamentary authorities decided to shift MPs and peers as the refurbishment would be impossible
  • Engineers fear the building could be at risk of fire during the major refurbishment works for the next decade 

Images of a temporary House of Commons chamber which will house MPs during a £1.5 billion restoration of the Palace of Westminster restoration have been revealed.

Parliamentary authorities plan to shift the House of Commons debating chamber and MPs’ offices into existing buildings on the northern part of the estate in Whitehall.

This would allow the multibillion-pound renovation of the historic Palace of Westminster in the south, backed by new legislation being introduced on Wednesday.

MPs are expected to be ‘decanted’ to Richmond House, the former Whitehall home of the Department of Health, and the Lords to the nearby Queen Elizabeth II Centre in the mid-2020s, with the whole project scheduled for completion early in the following decade.

Parliamentary authorities plan to shift the House of Commons debating chamber and MPs’ offices into existing buildings on the northern part of the estate in Whitehall 

Image showing planned temporary debating chamber from Forbes Massie Studio. MPs are expected to be ‘decanted’ to Richmond House, the former Whitehall home of the Department of Health, and the Lords to the nearby Queen Elizabeth II Centre in the mid-2020s, with the whole project scheduled for completion early in the following decade

Restoration and Renewal Programme director Tom Healey said staff needed to be moved out for the revamp to be as efficient as possible, citing an increase in issues like the leaky roof that temporarily closed the chamber last month.

He said: ‘A few weeks ago we saw water pouring through the ceiling of the chamber and the sitting had to be suspended.

‘The risk of that sort of incident where either part of the building is damaged by fire or becomes unusable because of water leaks or power failures or whatever, that’s the real risk.

The temporary building will feature a triple-height central lobby. MPs and Peers are being moved from their current location to enable the restoration process to take place more efficiently than if builders were forced to work around the parliamentarians. Officials said the existing building is deteriorating quicker than they can repair it under current restraints

‘The building is basically deteriorating more quickly than we than we can repair it under current constraints … at the moment we just can’t keep up with it.’

Round-the-clock fire safety patrols are already in operation in Westminster to protect the historic Palace from the risk posed by its antiquated wiring and gas pipes.

Some 66 incidents with potential to cause a serious fire have been recorded since 2008 in the Palace, which was itself constructed after a blaze destroyed previous parliamentary buildings in 1834.

Liz Peace, chairwoman of the Restoration and Renewal Programme board, told the Press Association she would do ‘everything humanly possible’ to prevent a Notre Dame-style tragedy.

Experts are afraid the restoration of the Palace of Westminster could place the existing buildings in jeopardy following the fires at the Notre Dame cathedral, the Glasgow School of Art and Windsor Castle 

She said: ‘We will be hiring the best, they will be experts, and there will be a massive focus on fire suppression during the course of the actual construction.

‘Hot work in particular is always seen as the difficulty in these buildings and we will do everything humanly possible, we will expect our contractors to do everything humanly possible, to protect it.

‘I think what things like Notre Dame, Glasgow School of Art and Windsor have done is raise awareness of the hazards during that construction period … My goodness, we will all be very, very aware of that.’

MPs and peers passed motions in 2018 to give the green light to restoration work amid growing concerns over the safety of the Palace. Now a Bill paving the way for the renovation has been tabled, given added impetus by the fire which devastated Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last month 

MPs and peers passed motions in 2018 to give the green light to restoration work amid growing concerns over the safety of the Palace.

Now a Bill paving the way for the renovation has been tabled, given added impetus by the fire which devastated Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last month.

Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh asked Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions for reassurances that the Bill would not see ‘a replica of the House of Commons where MPs may be parked for many years’.

Sir Edward asked the PM to ensure the decant ‘is for as short a time as possible, into a temporary, cost-effective chamber’.

MPs are afraid they may be placed in the temporary accommodation for several years while the work is carried out restoring the Palace of Westminster. In total, the temporary accommodation and the refurbishment of the old buildings is expected to cost in the region of £4bn. Parliamentary authorities have fire wardens in Westminster around the clock because of the real threat of an electrical fire caused by the antiquated wires and pipes in the building 

Mrs May replied: ‘Parliament is recognised all over the world as a symbol of democracy and the decision taken by parliament to approve the restoration and renewal programme was a huge step forward for its protection.

‘I’m sure he will agree with me it’s imperative Parliament keeps the total bill as low as possible.’

The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill will establish a governance structure for the £4 billion project, a large portion of which involves removing ageing pipes and wiring and replacing them with safer and more modern facilities.

The Bill will establish a cross-party Estimates Commission of MPs and peers to scrutinise the sponsor body’s spending plans in consultation with the Treasury, to keep a cap on costs.

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