A massive dry dock could be built in the Thames alongside the Houses of Parliament to speed up the multi-billion pound refurbishment of the historic building, it has been revealed.
MPs and peers are expected to move out of the Palace of Westminster for “years” to allow for restoration of the crumbling edifice, a report by the Restoration and Renewal Programme team confirmed.
The report said that moving MPs into parliamentary buildings on Whitehall – including a proposed chamber in Richmond House – and peers to the nearby QEII conference centre remains “the most secure, cost effective and practical solution” while works take place.
And it set out proposals to phase restoration work to minimise the time MPs are away from their historic home – including by creating access for construction workers to the building from the river.
The review did not put a budget on the cost of works, currently expected to start in the mid-2020s.
But previous studies have put the price tag at anything between £3.5bn and £5.7bn – with one spending watchdog estimating that the eventual cost could be as much as £12bn.
Today’s review warned that delay in starting work would add to the cost, due to the ongoing bills for maintaining the elderly building.
“The 150-year-old building is falling apart faster than it can be fixed, with the cost of maintenance projects and ongoing works recently doubling in just three years to £127m a year in 2018/9,” said the report.
“A comprehensive review was launched last year to provide clarity on the way forward. It looked at all the evidence available, including previous investigations and reports, as well as new evidence from surveys and submissions by expert stakeholders, MPs and peers.
“It found that restoring the building while all MPs and peers remain on-site would cost billions of pounds more and take decades longer than temporarily moving out while work takes place.”
Today’s review revealed that the team is investigating plans to allow access to the Palace from the Thames to minimise the time MPs and peers spend in temporary accommodation. The plan could see a dry dock erected alongside the Palace, giving engineers much better access along the full length of the building.
The review found that the project will create thousands of jobs and apprenticeships across the UK, including inhigh-tech industries such as digital design and engineering, as well as traditional crafts including carpentry and stonemasonry.
The chief executive of the Restoration and Renewal Sponsor Body, Sarah Johnson, said: “The iconic home of Parliament is in urgent need of restoration. The review has found new ways of carrying out the complex project, focused on getting value for money, and we will continue preparing a detailed and costed restoration and renewal plan that will for the first time give Parliament a true sense of the costs and timescales of restoring the Palace of Westminster.”
Restoration and Renewal Delivery Authority chief executive David Goldstone added: “We are absolutely committed to getting on with the job, making sure we spend money effectively, focusing on the vital and essential work that needs doing to protect and restore the world-famous Palace of Westminster while supporting thousands of jobs nationwide.”
Unions representing parliamentary staff welcomed the review’s rejection of calls for MPs to remain in the Palace while work goes on around them.
Prospect union deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “The idea that parliament could be fully restored without evacuating MPs and staff was always a ridiculous obsession of a minority of politicians.
“We welcome the conclusion of this review that this option would pose an ‘extraordinary level of risk’ and hope that this bad idea can now finally be put to bed, after a large amount of time and public money has been wasted pursuing it.
“The risks of a potentially catastrophic incident at Parliament will continue to rise if this vital restoration work does not commence as soon as possible.”
After the review was accepted by both Houses of Parliament, a detailed plan and costing for works will now continue, involving 100 investigative surveys of the building’s 1,100 rooms