Commons could relocate for up to five years to allow £3bn refurbishment of Palace of Westminster
Commons officials have alarmed MPs by floating plans to relocate parliament for up to five years to allow essential repairs at the historic Palace of Westminster.
Under one proposal, the Commons would abandon its Victorian premises and set up temporary home at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, about half a mile away, to enable a £3bn refurbishment.
Although planning is at a very early stage, Commons officials are thought to favour moving out on the grounds it would be more cost effective than scheduling the work around parliamentary recesses.
But MPs are wary. After a report in the Sunday Times saying that a temporary evacuation of the Commons “could save the taxpayer billions”, one senior MP suggested unelected officials were trying to “bounce” parliament into accepting the plan.
“I would not be happy to have other options closed down just because it suits some building manager to close down parliament,” said the MP, who sits on the House of Commons commission.
“We are talking about something very drastic, closing down parliament for five years. Some MPs would not mind moving out of the place. But others would object. Those in favour of this idea are not taking into account the cost of going elsewhere, the practicalities of moving and the effect it would have on government.”
The commission, which is chaired by the Speaker, John Bercow, and oversees Commons administration, commissioned a report this year into long-term plans for renovation of the Commons. The study has not yet been submitted and the commission has not taken any decisions or discussed the matter further.
Routine maintenance takes place at Westminster every year. But much of the building dates from the 1840s and 1850s and it is accepted that an overhaul is required.
The plumbing and electrics in the building are antiquated, and subsidence, which has already caused what the Commons authorities describe as a “very slight tilt” to the clock tower, is seen as an increasing problem. The interior of the palace is also riddled with asbestos.
The Commons commission said in a statement this year that all renovation options were being considered and that a final decision would not be taken for several years. “It is envisaged that [the options report] will take approximately a year, with any decisions on renovations not being made until the next parliament (2015-2020), with any work not commencing before 2020,” it said.