Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  100. Are you seriously telling us, Sir William, that you regard it as a good effort to have identified half the risks and failed to identify the other half?
  (Sir William McKay) I think that put in those terms, half the risks is half too few, but the NAO judgement overall is not quite so damning.


  101. Thank you very much for that, Mr Rendel. At the end of the day you promised us a couple of notes, I think, on the questions you were receiving from Mr Rendel on the Harmon case and also the costs per square metre. My colleague Mr Williams reminds me that on page 31, in paragraph 3.37, there is a point there that "the Northcroft mid-term review found that Portcullis House cost more per square metre to construct than other special buildings", but you are giving us a note on that in any event?
  (Sir William McKay) Yes. I think we would have something to say in that note, Chairman, about the uniqueness of this building and indeed any building.[6]

  (Mr Barram) If I may say so, Chairman, the same paragraph goes on to say that like for like comparisons are inevitably difficult. The plain fact is that there are a number of special features of this buildings that make like for like comparisons with any other building difficult.

  Chairman: Yes, we understand. Thank you, Mr Rendel. Mr George Osborne.

Mr Osborne

  102. Could I pick up where the Chairman just left off. People say this is the most expensive office building in Europe, are they correct in saying that?
  (Sir William McKay) I do not have figures for every other building in Europe with which this could be compared. I simply rely on what my colleague has just said, this is a unique building. I also add, this is not just an office building. I further add, that this is a showpiece for the British Parliament. These things are bound to be thrown into the balance when compared with a Frankfurt office building, for example.

  103. I have been to the new German Parliament, which is pretty spectacular, but a number of people who come and visit me here say, "Oh, this is the building which is the most expensive office building in Europe", you do not know why this rumour or truth has got about?
  (Sir William McKay) I think it is from the same stable, Chairman, as "The 1 million a Member" story.

  104. There are only 210 MPs accommodated in this building and it cost 234 million, so it is per Member more than 1 million.
  (Sir William McKay) No, it is not, Chairman. The very fact we are sitting here suggests that uses are made of this building well beyond that of 200-odd individual Members. Furthermore, we have a valuation for resource budgeting purposes of the Palace of 780 million which, if you count the number of Members there, equals roughly 21/2 million per Member in the Palace. It is a meaningless figure. It is meaningless in the Palace and meaningless in Portcullis House.

  105. Since one of Parliament's primary functions is to be the guardian of the nation's finances, do you not think we have a duty to at least lead by example and not necessarily construct, despite all the points you made about the historic site and so on, if not the most expensive office building in Europe at least one of them?
  (Sir William McKay) The decisions on the standard to which this building should be built were taken by the appropriate organ of the House. This is the building which the House, by approving the final sketch plan and by approving subsequent changes to it, wanted.

  106. Moving on from that point and picking up on the line of questioning Mr Gardiner was engaged on, I do appreciate the Department of the Environment, as then was, gave the initial brief to Michael Hopkins, architect, but am I right in saying, as I was not a Member of Parliament then, there were no other designs submitted for this site? When Parliament burnt down in the 19th century, you could see the very different designs submitted for the new Parliament building and the Parliament which eventually Barry designed. Were there other quite different designs for this building?
  (Sir William McKay) There were not so much other designs for this building but other possibilities for this site. First of all, there have been suggestions to what might be done with this site to expand parliamentary accommodation since at least the 1960s. In the 1980s there were four reports commissioned by the DoE into piecemeal rebuilding and how you could finance it. None of them found favour in the House. In 1989 when it became clear London Underground were going to build a new tube station, both of the parties with an interest in this site saw the opportunity of co-operation.

  107. But once this opportunity was apparent, there were no other building designs put forward? The building we are sitting in now, the building people see on the waterfront in London, there were no other designs for this building submitted to Parliament for them to consider?
  (Sir William McKay) No, the House approved the Hopkins preliminary and, through the Commission, final sketch plans. Indeed, as one of my colleagues is pointing out, there was a competition to select an architect but, as you say, not to select a design.

  108. I am surprised, given that the Report says this building should be regarded as an example of the very finest late-20th century British architecture, and maybe you are surprised too, there was not some kind of public competition, there was not some kind of encouragement, even just at architect level to produce different versions of what this building could look like. Presumably with a clear site right in the middle of historic Central London, you can do all sorts of things?
  (Sir William McKay) The House itself and the several committees involved, all had an opportunity to start such an initiative.

  109. But did not.
  (Mr Makepeace) Can I come in on that? There are two other relevant factors. There had been competitions in the past for a design for this site, there was the famous one which Spence and Webster won, which not only covered this site but next door, Bridge Street and the Norman Shaws. So there had been competitions for this site but they had not got to development at all. The other thing to bear in mind is that competitions were very popular in the early 1980s, and then they went out of fashion again, largely I suspect because of the problems with the National Gallery, and the mood went from competition with designs produced in six weeks, or whatever period the competition organisers set, to choosing an architect who the user could work with, and that is what happened very much in this case. It was the product of that time, they went for the designer and not for the design.

  110. Maybe that was a mistake. Another feature of this building that is often commented on is that it is a very innovative building in terms of its use of energy and so on. According to the Report, and I am looking at page 31, paragraph 3.33, it says, ". . . there would be a high capital cost associated" with this particularly innovative energy design. Have you any idea what the extra capital cost was of putting in this special energy efficient design?
  (Sir William McKay) As far as I am aware, it is so built into the design that it might be difficult to quantify, but you are certainly right that the proof of that pudding will be in the eating; the proof of the choice of this building will be in the energy costs.

  111. So what are the energy costs?
  (Sir William McKay) We are not yet in a position to come to a judgment about it; we have not really got stable figures. But all the independent expert bodies which have looked at this place have said the design is right. Mostly, I gather, experience tells us that you have to wait. In a sense you have to help the occupants of the building to use it to best advantage, to their best advantage and to best cost advantage.

  112. It says in paragraph 4.9 on page 36, "Ove Arup estimated the total energy consumption of the building would be around 90 kilowatt hours a year per square metre ...", which is apparently extremely good and far better than most buildings, however since the building opened, "... the total energy consumption [has been] 413 kilowatt hours a year per square metre ....", although this does include use of things like computers. Have you no idea what the actual energy use of the building has been? It has been open for some time now.
  (Sir William McKay) We will have, Chairman. We have no stable figures yet. As you say, the energy requirement of the building is boosted by things like computers, kitchens. We have had Arup's heating and air conditioning design checked by consulting engineers and they confirm the validity of the design. The Building Research Establishment environmental assessment people say the design is excellent, so we are hopeful. We bear in mind too that the consumption figures are not predictions but an estimate of how things might be when the building is used to best effect by the occupants.

  113. What are you doing to educate the occupants of the building on best use?
  (Sir William McKay) We are about to give advice on the use of blinds, which I think will almost vary from office to office.

  114. Use of blinds?
  (Sir William McKay) Yes, to prevent heat build-up.
  (Mr Makepeace) One of the big problems we had last year was that, not unreasonably, the occupants of the rooms kept the blinds open all day, even when the sun was shining, so there is a solar gain problem. We have done some work with independent engineers where they will offer you advice if you happen to have an office in the building, and they say that from eight o'clock in the morning, say, until ten o'clock you should keep your blinds open, but from ten o'clock onwards you will run the risk of solar gain pushing the temperatures up to a level you would find unacceptable.

  115. So this amazing building means you have got to keep the blinds shut on a nice sunny day to keep it cool?
  (Mr Makepeace) Sorry, what I mean by the blinds staying shut, is that we have them at 45 degrees to the horizontal.

  116. So here we are with what should be one of the greatest views in London, certainly from where I am sitting, not from where Mr Steinberg is sitting—and I am looking beyond him, I should point out!—and because the blinds are as they are, I cannot actually see anything.
  (Mr Makepeace) Chairman, we are only talking about the hot days of the year, not every day of the year.

  117. But this is a beautiful day. I would love to be able to see the outside.
  (Sir William McKay) It might have had a cost consequence if we had to include cold air conditioning.

  118. The problem is, you do not know that because you do not know how much the extra capital costs were of designing these energy efficiency measures, you have no idea of what the energy efficiency savings have been to date, you do not know, as I say, what the price we are paying is or how much money we are saving, indeed, for having the blinds shut on a sunny day.
  (Sir William McKay) To give an example, Chairman, the famous trees are there because were they not, we should need to have electro-mechanical air cooling.
  (Mr Barram) If I may make one point, Chairman, this room runs north-south. The sun rises on the side of the building that is currently blinded, and that is a matter of educating the occupants. For example, the blinds are not required now, the sun is on the other side of the building. The blinds need to be raised and your view will be restored.

  119. That should be noted by future users of the Boothroyd Room. Coming on to these trees, since you mentioned them, as I understood it, there was a problem with the type of tree and so on?
  (Sir William McKay) Yes.


6   Ev 20, Appendix 1. Back

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