Select Committee on Administration First Report

4  A new reception and security building

19. This proposal was initially suggested by the consultants, Haley Sharpe in association with Purcell Miller Tritton and Partners, who developed the original concept to include an interpretative visitor centre. They believed that current arrangements for reception and security could be improved if visitors entered at the northern end of the Palace where information and welcome could be combined with necessary security arrangements. This new route would make the North Door of Westminster Hall the main entry point into the Palace.

20. Instead of St Stephen's Entrance, which the consultants rightly judged as too small for this, a new single storey reception/security building would be sited at the north end of Cromwell Green, on the west side of the Jubilee Café. This would be the main entry point to the Palace and would provide a welcoming point for visitors coming to Parliament on business, to the galleries and to committees. Public tours would, nevertheless, still begin at the Lords end, reflecting the 'story' set out in the building; and passholders would still be able to come in through St Stephen's Entrance.


21. The proposed new building would be single storey, with a flat roof at the Cromwell Green level, to minimise its impact on the setting of the Palace. The proposed ramp down from street level would be sited along the west wall of Cromwell Green. Indications from the planning authorities have so far been supportive. A full archaeological survey would also be carried out. Appendix 1 contains a plan of the proposed building and the entry to it. An initial artist's drawing to indicate the bulk and sightlines of the new building has been reproduced in Appendix 2. We are aware of the sensitivity of the site and recognise that the eventual design will need to be appropriate for its surroundings.

Benefits of this arrangement

22. The consultants summarised the benefits to visitors of the proposed new security/reception building:

·  visitors enter through the natural main entrance at the north end of the Palace near the Clock Tower;

·  visitors have the immediate visual impact of Westminster Hall as they enter through the North Door;

·  the Hall has the capacity to absorb large numbers of people, and any who need to wait for the galleries can queue out of the rain;

·  there would be direct access to Central Lobby via St Stephen's Hall;

·  there would be a reduction in the number of visitors queuing in the open air;

·  access for disabled visitors would be improved: they would no longer have to separate from other visitors and would be able to enter the Palace via the same route and security arrangements.

23. There are significant benefits to the House of the proposed arrangements. For example, it will enable the unsightly X-ray machines and barriers to be removed from St Stephens's Entrance, thus enhancing the view of Westminster Hall. The new building will also have the capacity to accommodate three security screening machines as opposed to the two that are currently available at St Stephen's Entrance. This will increase the speed at which visitors will be able to enter Parliament, especially at times when large numbers of visitors arrive at the same time, for example, for mass lobbies or for functions.

24. Since we began consideration of these proposals, the level of terrorist threat has, at times, caused the security search of visitors to be moved outside the building into a tent awkwardly situated outside St Stephen's Entrance. In our view this reinforces the need for a purpose-built security building outside the main building where such controls can be operated in a way that is comfortable for public and staff alike. The proposals have been developed in consultation with the police and senior security staff of both Houses and take account of the latest security advice.

Entering Parliament through the new building

25. We have considered how, if this new building were established, the public route into the Palace would operate.

a)  Visitors would enter the new building by means of a ramp leading down from near St Stephen's Entrance along the west wall of Cromwell Green, retaining the existing wide pavement area as the initial gathering point. The entry arrangements would ensure that, as now, those on specific business in either of the Houses, such as attending Committee meetings as a witness, are not delayed by those visiting the galleries.

b)  A staffed information point would be available outside St Stephen's Entrance to provide information on the opportunities for access to Parliament, including current events in the Chamber and committees. It would also help in the management of visitor flow by displaying details of waiting times for the galleries.

c)  The passage running inside the wall from near St Stephen's entrance to the new building would be partly covered and would include graphic panels and leaflets providing information on the work of Parliament.

d)  Once inside the new building, visitors would undergo security searches at one of the three search points.

e)  Visitors would then emerge, and pass along an enclosed walkway to the North Door of Westminster Hall.

f)  The existing oak North Door would normally be fully open, with an internal glass structure inserted across the main arch, permitting two-way use and reducing heat loss. Visitors would enter through this to enjoy the immediate visual impact of Westminster Hall.

g)  Further information would be provided in the Hall to guide them on their preferred route:

·  ahead and up the steps to St Stephen's Hall for the galleries, or the Committee Corridor via the Central Lobby reception desk;

·  to the Central Lobby reception desk to meet Members or staff;

·  to the right for the Grand Committee Room, Jubilee Café and lavatories.

h)  Visitors would exit via the North Door and the turnstile by Carriage Gates. This exit would also be used by those on the public tour who would have entered via the House of Lords and finished their tour in Westminster Hall.

i)  These new entry arrangements would also provide for the possibility of visitors seeing the interior of Westminster Hall without continuing to other parts of the Palace.

26. Contingency arrangements would need to be made for those periods when Westminster Hall is closed, for example, in preparation for, and during, formal occasions involving both Houses of Parliament, such as the presentation of Addresses. This is likely to involve putting temporary security facilities back into St Stephen's Entrance.

Other facilities

27. The original concept of a full visitor centre made provision for a shop. Currently visitors only have use of a small bookstall, which provides a limited range of merchandise in a cramped corner of St Stephen's Hall. The north-east end of Westminster Hall has been used as a temporary shop during summer openings and, more recently, before Christmas. This has been a successful operation in terms of sales and has been greatly appreciated by visitors. However, there have been firm objections from English Heritage. Clearly a better permanent location needs to be found for a proper shop that could offer a fuller range of books and informative material—and cards and other merchandise—to visitors.

28. Having examined options for using rooms off Westminster Hall, we have concluded that there is currently insufficient available capacity within the Palace of Westminster for a large-scale retail facility. We believe that options to use the W rooms, without the provision of suitable alternative meeting rooms, would compromise the principle which has underpinned our approach to this issue: that the Palace of Westminster is primarily a place of work and facilities for the public should not impinge on that work. We intend to keep the provision of a retail facility within the Palace of Westminster under review. Any future plans to site a full interpretative visitor centre outside the Palace of Westminster should include a large-scale retail facility.

29. There is a need for more lavatories for visitors. This has been highlighted by long queues, especially during the summer opening. We believe this need could be met without significant adverse effects on the work of Parliament. We propose that the smallest W room, W5, together with the single lavatory next to it, should be converted into lavatories for visitors. This would increase provision by 50% and should help to reduce queues.

Westminster Hall

30. We are aware that a range of views exists within the House about the use of Westminster Hall. If our proposals for new entry arrangements are implemented, Westminster Hall would receive all non-passholders who currently enter the Palace through St Stephen's entrance. The other security points for non-passholders at Black Rod's entrance and Portcullis House would continue to operate.

31. Westminster Hall is a large space, but its current condition is hardly welcoming. Better lighting, limited signposting and reception arrangements such as a desk would be needed. Refurbishments of the roof, walls, floor and lighting are scheduled for 2006 as part of the works maintenance programme. A better lit Hall would improve the impact of this wonderful space, which could accommodate greater numbers of people, as it has done in the past, without detracting from its character.

Capital cost and timing

32. Further work will clearly be necessary on the plans. Initial estimates of the capital cost of the new reception/security building and the covered walkway towards the North Door of Westminster Hall are in the region of £5 million. This figure does not take into account the effects of inflation or the cost of any additional related security works required once consultations with security and heritage bodies have been completed. The final figure is therefore likely to be higher. The relevant Committees in each House, reporting to the House of Commons Commission and the Lords House Committee, would monitor progress of the project and its detailed development.

33. Planning for the new building, including the time required for tendering under EU procurement rules, would take 18 months. If the House were to approve our recommendations, work would therefore be able to begin on the new building in the summer of 2005. Taking into account the need to minimise disruption during periods when Parliament is sitting, the construction would take about one year to complete.

Revenue Implications

34. Moving the principal entrance for visitors from St Stephen's Entrance would enable the reallocation of some security staff to the new building. However, the consultants estimate that the staffing of the new information point near St Stephen's Entrance and the extra searching capacity of the new building would require additional staff—three full-time posts for the kiosk, and six full-time posts of security officers for the search points. This gives a total increase in revenue costs of £200,000 per annum. Some extra costs would also be incurred for lighting and heating, staffing an information desk in Westminster Hall, and for the production of information material.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 10 February 2004