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Sponsor Body launches review into plans

Plans for the vital restoration needed to save the Houses of Parliament will be examined by an expert team set up by the Sponsor Body in charge of the work.

The Sponsor Body announced on May 19, 2020, that, working closely with the new delivery authority, it will review options for how the restoration programme should be carried out, including new ways of working developed in response to the health crisis caused by Covid-19. It will re-examine evidence behind options developed over five years ago, including the plan to relocate temporarily all MPs and Peers while the work takes place. It will consider whether this is still the “best and most cost-effective option” by assessing any new findings by the programme.

The review will also consider the trade-offs between cost, timescales and scope that Parliament would need to make in order to ensure best value for money, in line with recent recommendations from the National Audit Office. A challenge panel to test the review will include senior Parliamentary figures.

The review team is expected to report in the autumn and will make recommendations which will be presented to the appropriate Parliamentary authorities.

Why the review is needed

The Sponsor Body, which was formally established last month, is the single client accountable to Parliament and oversees a Delivery Authority, which will carry out the work. This way of working was set up under new legislation last year, the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act.

It was always envisaged that when the Sponsor Body was set up in law, and the Delivery Authority established, certain aspects of the programme would be reviewed. But given the completely altered political and economic landscape, the review will need to be both deeper and more wide-ranging.

The context in which both Houses made their decisions about Restoration and Renewal has changed and a National Audit Office report into the project highlighted the critical need for consistent political support.

In the light of Covid-19, there are likely to be other key drivers, arising mainly as a result of the impact on the economy, on public finances and on the population at large. Taking all these together, the review will provide decision-makers with a framework to determine how they wish to proceed.

How the review will be conducted

The review will be led by Sarah Johnson, the Sponsor Body CEO, and David Goldstone, Delivery Authority CEO, and will involve infrastructure and programme management experts drawn from the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority.

“The restoration and renewal of the Houses of Parliament will be the biggest and most complex heritage project ever undertaken in the UK, protecting one of the world’s most recognisable buildings and likely to support thousands of jobs across the country,” said Ms Johnson, Sponsor Body CEO.

“The Sponsor Body has been set up to ensure that the project is delivered in the most efficient way that delivers value for money. It is entirely appropriate that we should pause at this time to consider the validity of recommendations made over five years ago before either the Sponsor Body or Delivery Authority was formed.

“The impact of the current health crisis on public finances and Parliament’s ways of working has made it even more essential that we review both the strategy for relocating the two Houses and the scope of the restoration of the Palace.”

The review will consider and make recommendations on:

  • Whether the current solutions present value for money

  • What compromises would need to be made to save money

  • What opportunities exist for a simpler, quicker and cheaper temporary accommodation

  • How ways of working developed in response to COVID-19 affect options or requirements for temporary accommodation

After a report comparing options was published in 2015, both Houses collectively agreed in 2018 that the ‘best and most cost-effective’ way of carrying out the restoration and renewal was to move out of the Palace of Westminster temporarily. MPs and Peers decided to leave the building completely to avoid the significant disruption that would be caused by remaining on site while construction work carried on around them. Under existing plans, the House of Commons is expected to move to Parliament’s Northern Estate, occupying a new temporary House of Commons chamber in Richmond House, on Whitehall. The House of Lords is expected to move temporarily to the QEII Conference Centre, opposite Westminster Abbey, in Westminster.

The urgent challenge remains

What remains unchanged, however, is that the Palace of Westminster is falling apart faster than it can be repaired. Many features have not been renovated since it was built in the 19th century. The longer the essential work is left, the greater the risk of a catastrophic failure from fire, flooding or falling stonework. According to the National Audit Office, Parliament has spent more than £369m on maintenance since 2016. There is also an increasing backlog of repairs estimated at over £1 billion.