Friday, 17 October 2008
Where should they go?
I've just finished a live-to-air interview with BBC Three Counties Radio about the prospects of MPs having to move out of the House of Commons to allow necessary renewal work to take place in the Palace of Westminster.
The House of Commons Commission has ordered a feasibility study, due to report by the middle of next year, to examine "whether substantial savings in cost, time and risk could be made by moving some operations of both Houses out of the Palace for a period to enable modernisation to be carried out continuously until its completion." This is unlikely to happen before 2012.
The problem is that the Palace is showing its age. Most of the structure was built after the great fire of 1834 (see yesterday's post on this blog). Some of the pipework dates back to that rebuilding. Most of the mechanical plant providing heating, ventilation and air conditioning services derives from the work done following the destruction of the House of Commons area during World War Two. In addition there is a great deal of asbestos that needs removal - and much could be done to make the building more energy efficient.
Normally major work is done over the summer recess - but the scale of the task is such that it could not be completed within that period. Options are limited. The Queen Elizabeth II Centre nearby might offer a temporary home - but it isn't just a question of moving the chamber. Both Houses rely on a massive support organisation - printing; parliamentary clerks; members' staff; dining facilities; broadcasting and the security operations. There is an extensive press presence plus all the visitors to the building (from tourists to lobbyists).