Westminster: Legislative plans for Olympics-style body to oversee restoration works

Houses of Parliament courtesy of UK GovMPs vote on proposals for Houses of Parliament refurbishment that include provision for an advisory body, as the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster reaches a major milestone with introduction of the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill.

image: Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

Gov UK writes:

Efforts to protect the Palace of Westminster from a catastrophic event like the recent Notre Dame fire reach a major milestone today with the introduction of the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill.

The bill means the governance structure, approved by MPs and peers in 2018, will draw on the best practice of the 2012 London Olympics by establishing:

  • a Sponsor Body – made up of parliamentary and external members, which acts as the client on behalf of Parliament and will oversee the delivery of the works
  • a Delivery Authority – equipped with the expertise to keep costs down and manage a project of this complexity

A number of financial safeguards are written into the bill, given it is imperative that Parliament keeps total costs down.

  • an Estimates Commission, with cross-party involvement, will be established to scrutinise the Sponsor Body’s spending plans
  • the Estimates Commission will be required to consult the Treasury and take into account any advice it gives
  • the National Audit Office will undertake regular audits and value-for-money reviews

The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, Leader of the House of Commons, said:

‘Events like the terrible fire at Notre Dame bring home to us sharply the importance of preserving our historic buildings. The Palace of Westminster, recognised the world over as a symbol of democracy, must be restored for future generations. This bill ensures the vital work needed to protect its future will happen in the most efficient way – with the expertise we need, proper structures in place, and making sure we deliver the best possible value for taxpayers’ money. I have always championed the need for Parliament to get on with this vital work, and am proud to introduce this bill.’

The Rt Hon Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, Leader of the House of Lords, said: ‘This bill is an important step in the restoration and renewal of the Palace. It will establish a Sponsor Board, independent of Parliament, with the expertise to prepare the detailed business case for R&R and create the Delivery Authority to carry out the works. Both bodies will be subject to financial accountability and Parliamentary oversight. It is imperative that we make progress and protect the Palace of Westminster for future generations.’

Interim measures, including 24/7 fire safety patrols, are already in place to protect the historic Palace and ensures it remains compliant with existing fire safety laws. The risks, however, are very great, of a catastrophic failure within the building, and so progress to carrying out the urgent mechanical and engineering work is vital. At the same time, preparatory work has been undertaken by the shadow Sponsor Board, established in June 2018, including the development of plans for temporary chambers for use during the period of the works. The bill will require the Sponsor Body to secure parliamentary approval for the design, cost and timing of the works. MPs and Peers will move out of the Palace in the mid-2020s.

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UK Construction Week writes:

MPs are to vote within weeks on the creation of a London Olympics-style delivery body to oversee the multibillion-pound restoration of the Houses of Parliament, with work expected to begin in the mid-2020s.

Sources close to the project, which could cost up to £6bn and last until the mid-2030s, have suggested that opposition to the restoration plans had dramatically fallen since the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which had prompted a new sense of urgency to move it forward.

Efforts to get on with restoring the Palace of Westminster have also been buoyed by the removal of Gavin Williamson as defence secretary. He had objected to the use of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) car park for contractors’ lorries on security grounds, meaning plans were being redrawn, causing lengthy delays…

MPs are expected to leave the Palace of Westminster in 2025 and move into a temporary chamber in the former Department of Health building Richmond House, which is next to the MoD. Lords are to move into the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre…

The bill proposes creating a sponsor body of MPs, peers and external experts who would act as the client on behalf of parliament for a delivery authority of experts to manage the complex project.

Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, said the fire at Notre Dame had brought home ‘the importance of preserving our historic buildings’. She said the bill would protect the future of the Palace of Westminster and ensure value for money.

Fire safety teams constantly patrol the neo-gothic Palace of Westminster, where there have been 66 fires since 2008. In 2016, the Guardian reported a malfunctioning light on an obscure part of the roof caused an electrical fire that could have spread rapidly had it not been detected…

It is unclear whether MPs will manage to pass the full bill before the summer recess but a ‘shadow’ sponsor body has already been created that will begin recruitment for the delivery body once second reading is passed.

Plans for the temporary Commons chamber in Richmond House are set to be unveiled on Wednesday, after experts determined that more ambitious plans such as a ‘floating parliament’ on the Thames would be a security risk. MPs must also be able to access other parts of the parliamentary estate, such as offices in Portcullis House, without leaving the secure zones.

Under the plans, the Richmond House chamber, which will only have 75% of the capacity of the current chamber, will remain a permanent exhibition and educational space once MPs move back into the Palace of Westminster.

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View the Guardian’s original article

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