Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster Contents


The Palace of Westminster

1.The Palace of Westminster is one of the most recognisable buildings in the world. Built in the middle of the 19th Century on the site where Parliament has met since the medieval period, and next to the ancient Westminster Hall, the current Palace has been home to the two Houses of Parliament for over 150 years and the building itself has come to be regarded by many as a symbol of British democracy. At the time of its conception the building’s design and construction celebrated the best of Victorian technology and innovation, despite its archaic gothic appearance, and it is still one of the most cherished and celebrated buildings in the United Kingdom. Over time, however, the services and technology which were once new and innovative have become dilapidated, outdated, and in increasingly pressing need of repair and replacement.

2.As custodians of the building, the governing bodies of the two Houses of Parliament have regarded the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster as an increasingly pressing issue in recent years. The Restoration and Renewal (R&R) Programme was established by the two Houses in January 2013, following a series of reports and studies into the condition of the Palace of Westminster. During the final years of the last Parliament an independent appraisal of the options was commissioned and carried out. This Committee was established in July 2015 in order to consider the information gathered so far and to make recommendations to both Houses on how to proceed with the Programme.

3.The restoration of such a magnificent historic building will be an extremely complex and difficult task. The building welcomes approximately one million visitors every year, ranging from people who wish to see Parliament in action, to schoolchildren taking part in educational activities, and tourists who wish to see the historic architecture and artwork. The building has to accommodate numerous different functions, from the formal proceedings of two Houses of Parliament, to state occasions, meetings with constituents, charity events and many others. Even during recesses, the possibility of a recall at short notice means that it is necessary to ensure that both Chambers can be brought back into action at a couple of days’ notice. Ensuring that the business of Parliament can continue with minimal disruption during the period of the works, and that members of the public can continue to access the work of Parliament, will therefore be a huge logistical challenge.

4.However, the renovation of the Palace of Westminster also offers the potential for significant opportunities. Members and staff of both Houses are extremely privileged to be able to work within such a unique and special building. With that privilege comes a duty to ensure that the building is maintained and repaired in the best way possible, in order to preserve and protect the building for the nation as a whole.

A brief history of the building

5.The site in and around the current Palace of Westminster has been a location for ecclesiastical buildings, royalty and power since at least the Middle Ages. Soon after he came to the Throne in 1042, Edward the Confessor began building the original Palace of Westminster as a place from which he could oversee the construction of Westminster Abbey next door. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, William the Conqueror inherited the palace and, during his reign, London became an increasingly important trading port and business centre, though the seat of government was not yet based at Westminster. In 1097, William’s son, William II (William Rufus), began laying the foundations of the Great Hall (now called Westminster Hall).2

6.During the 12th and 13th Centuries, an increasing number of institutions began to settle at Westminster. From as early as 1259, the state openings of parliamentary occasions were held in the King’s private apartment at Westminster, though it is not clear where Parliament met under Simon de Montfort in 1265. After 1512, when Henry VIII abandoned the Palace in favour of the nearby Palace of Whitehall following a fire, the Palace of Westminster became the permanent home of Parliament.3

7.In 1834, a devastating fire destroyed most of the collection of buildings now referred to as the ‘old Palace of Westminster’. The medieval Westminster Hall, a building of tremendous national significance, was saved, as were parts of St Stephen’s Chapel, including the undercroft chapel, and fragments of St Stephen’s Cloister. However, most of the rest of the parliamentary buildings on the site, many of which were then of quite recent construction, were lost.4

8.Following the fire, a competition was launched to design a new parliamentary building. The winner, Charles Barry, was appointed as architect in 1836 and oversaw the construction of the building until his death in 1860, when he was succeeded by his son, Edward Middleton Barry. Charles Barry was supported by his co-creator of the Palace of Westminster, Augustus Welby Pugin, who is viewed by many as a genius of the revived Gothic Perpendicular style, used throughout the building. Preparation of the site began in 1837, the foundation stone was laid in 1840 and the House of Lords and House of Commons began to sit in their new Chambers in 1847 and 1852 respectively. The rest of the building was largely finished by 1870, though Barry’s original design was never fully realised.5

9.Since then, the building has continued to evolve and various adaptations have been made. One of the most significant developments has been the reconstruction work carried out after the Second World War. The House of Commons Chamber was completely destroyed in 1941 and the House of Lords Chamber also suffered damage during the war.6 Following forceful arguments by the Prime Minister at the time, Sir Winston Churchill, the House of Commons Chamber was rebuilt on the previous site, with very similar dimensions and layout to Barry’s Chamber. The damaged archway leading into the Chamber was preserved as a reminder of the destruction which had taken place.7 Other major developments have included the construction of a new office block for the House of Commons in Star Chamber Court in 1967, new office accommodation created in House of Lords’ courtyards in 1974 and the opening of a new visitor reception building on Cromwell Green in 2008.8

10.In 1970, the Palace of Westminster was formally listed as a Grade I building (denoting exceptional interest).9 Together with Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church it forms parts of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO’s listing:

“The Palace is one of the most significant monuments of neo-Gothic architecture, as an outstanding, coherent and complete example of neo-Gothic style. Westminster Hall is a key monument of the Perpendicular style and its admirable oak roof is one of the greatest achievements of medieval construction in wood. Westminster is a place in which great historical events have taken place that shaped the English and British nations.”10

11.From 1870 to 1992, the Government Office of Works and its successor organisations were responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the Palace of Westminster. In the light of the Government’s decision to privatise the Property Services Agency (which by then had acquired responsibility for the Palace),11 and following a review12 in 1990 by Sir Robin Ibbs, the Government’s former Efficiency Adviser, in 1992 responsibility for maintaining the Palace of Westminster, and the corresponding budget, were transferred from Government to Parliament itself.13 However, the Palace of Westminster remains a Royal Palace, and the Lord Great Chamberlain retains control over certain areas of the building.14

Background to the Restoration and Renewal Programme

12.Despite its grand external appearance, inside the Palace of Westminster there is a concerning tale of decay, disrepair and dilapidation. While the building’s essential services (such as heating, cooling, water, sewage, electricity, cabling) have been kept functioning, this is done with increasing difficulty and growing risks. There has been no overall renovation of the building since the partial rebuilding in 1945–50 and some of the services are even older. The original basements and vertical shafts have become so crammed with pipes, cables, and other services that further work in these areas has become increasingly difficult and expensive. Asbestos is hidden throughout the Palace, acting as an ever-present threat which complicates and prolongs any remedial works. Furthermore, the lack of effective fire compartmentation means that the risk of a major conflagration spreading throughout the building is always there.15

13.In 2012, a Pre-Feasibility Study on the condition of the Palace (see paragraph 16 below) reported the following:

“Considering the age of the Palace of Westminster, the 60+ years that have passed since the partial post-war refurbishment, the long-term under-investment in the fabric and the intensive use to which the Palace is put, it is remarkable that it continues to function. The signs of wear and tear, the number and frequency of relatively minor floods and mechanical breakdowns, the high cost of maintaining obsolescent equipment and the large sums that are now having to be spent on aggressive maintenance and risk reduction all provide tangible evidence of the looming crisis. A growing body of surveys, consultancy reports and risk registers point to the further deterioration that will occur and the severe hazards that could occur if fundamental renovation is delayed indefinitely.

It is hard to imagine how the Palace will survive for future generations to use and admire without a major mid-life overhaul.”16

The 2012 Study also concluded that:

“If the Palace were not a listed building of the highest heritage value, its owners would probably be advised to demolish and rebuild.”17

14.There are multiple reasons for the general neglect of the building in the second half of the 20th Century, which we explore in more detail in Chapter 2. In short, a desire to confine major work to recess periods in order to avoid significant disruption to the work of Parliament, an increased focus on the acquisition of additional buildings to provide more office accommodation, and a lack of institutional knowledge about the state of the services, all contributed to the general decline of the Palace and the increasingly chaotic way in which new services were installed on top of old.

15.Following decades of underinvestment and successive failed attempts to address the backlog of work18, in January 2012 the Management Boards of the House of Commons and House of Lords agreed to appoint a Study Group to:

16.In October 2012, that group produced its report, Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster: Pre-Feasibility Study and Preliminary Strategic Business Case20, which outlined the significant extent of the works required, and the risks associated with not tackling the work in a coherent and timely manner. The House of Commons Commission and the House of Lords House Committee considered that report in October 2012 and agreed that an appraisal of all the options that retained the Palace of Westminster as the permanent home of the Houses of Parliament should be conducted.21

17.At that point, the idea of building a permanent, new parliamentary building elsewhere was ruled out. The House of Commons Commission announced that:

“[ … ] the Commission has ruled out the option of constructing a brand new building away from Westminster and no further analysis will be undertaken on this option.”22

Similarly, in the House of Lords, the House Committee announced that it had “ruled out the idea of a new permanent parliamentary building elsewhere.”23

18.In December 2013, a consortium led by Deloitte Real Estate, including AECOM and HOK, was appointed to produce an independent appraisal of the options for the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster. Their Independent Options Appraisal (IOA)24 was published on 18 June 2015.

19.The Independent Options Appraisal considered in detail three possible delivery options:25

20.These options were mapped against three outcome levels, A, B and C:

Combining the three delivery options and three outcome levels produced nine possible scenarios, shown in Table 1.

Table 1: IOA scenarios shortlist

Option 1
Rolling decant

Option 2
Partial decant

Option 3
Full decant

Outcome Level A




Outcome Level B




Outcome Level C




Source: Deloitte LLP, Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Programme Independent Options Appraisal, September 2014, Volume 1, p 5

21.Only the shaded options were costed as part of the IOA exercise. In fact, the original Delivery Option 1 was ruled out as not viable during the initial shortlisting process, but reinstated in a modified (“enabled”) version to meet the requirement of the House of Commons Commission and the House of Lords House Committee that an option involving a rolling programme of works be included in the appraisal.

22.While the scenarios analysed in the IOA have provided a useful starting point for our consideration of how to approach the Programme, we have not taken the conclusions of that report for granted. We have spent a lot of time challenging and scrutinising the conclusions contained within the IOA, and have also remained open to other suggestions about how the work should be tackled.

The Committee’s work

23.The Joint Committee was appointed by both Houses in July 2015 in order to consider the best way to proceed with the Restoration and Renewal Programme.30 In many ways, this has been a committee like no other. While we were established to consider the building in which we work, we have been acutely conscious of the fact that we are considering an issue of significant national interest. At our first meeting in September 2015, we agreed that it would be important to work in a collegiate, collaborative manner, and to set aside party political affiliations. We also agreed that a task as large and complex as this could only be tackled effectively if there were no divisions between the two Houses, and we have therefore worked in a wholly bicameral manner, with chairmanship of the meetings alternating between the two Co-Chairmen.

24.We have taken our responsibilities on this Committee very seriously, often meeting weekly to explore, scrutinise and challenge the evidence provided to us. Many of us began the process by being very sceptical about the need for the Programme and by querying the options presented. However, we have spent many hours poring over the detailed information contained within the IOA, and challenging the Programme and consultant teams, in order to satisfy ourselves of the need for the work. We have reached conclusions on many of the big issues, but with a programme of this scale it is inevitable that more work will be needed during subsequent phases and, where it has not been possible to reach firm conclusions at this point, we have also flagged where further work is required.

25.At an early stage in our deliberations, we agreed a number of key criteria to guide our inquiry. These were:

The recommendations in this report are intended to meet these key criteria.

26.There has been one area of work which we agreed at an early stage not to consider. The 2012 Pre-Feasibility Study considered the option of constructing a new, permanent Parliamentary building elsewhere, while finding an alternative future use for the Palace of Westminster. The Study concluded that this would be likely to be the most expensive option as, in addition to the cost of a new building, the renovation and maintenance of the Palace would remain in some way or another a charge on the Treasury.31 As noted in paragraph 16, in October 2012 the House of Commons Commission and the House Committee of the House of Lords decided that the Palace should remain the long-term home of Parliament, and ruled out the new-build option. In the light of the clear views expressed by the decision-making bodies of both Houses, we therefore decided not to re-open this option.

27.Unlike many of the internal matters often considered by ‘domestic committees’ of either House, given the cost, importance and national interest of the R&R Programme, we felt that it was important to seek views from as diverse a range of people as possible. On 30 November 2015 we therefore issued a Call for Evidence inviting submissions from members of the public, external organisations, interested bodies and Members and staff of both Houses. The Call for Evidence is reproduced in Appendix 2. The written evidence received is published online32 and a list of those who have submitted written evidence is included at the end of this report.

28.We have also spoken to a number of experts and stakeholders in person, both formally and informally. Given the nature of the project, some of these discussions have taken place in private in order to allow a frank discussion of issues which are sensitive for commercial, security or other reasons. However, we have also taken formal evidence in public from a number of external experts.33 A full list of those who have briefed the Committee is included at the end of this report, and the Committee is very grateful for their assistance.

29.Over the course of the inquiry, Members of the Committee have also held informal conversations with various groups of Members from both Houses in a variety of forums, either at party meetings, in informal groups, or one-to-one discussions. The Committee is grateful to all those who contributed their views either formally or informally, in person or in writing. The breadth of views and suggestions proposed have been extremely useful in helping us to shape our conclusions.

30.We would like to thank all the officials within Parliament’s Restoration and Renewal Programme Team who have worked tirelessly over the course of the inquiry to produce papers, to provide presentations, and to lead tours around the Parliamentary Estate. While much of this work has occurred behind the scenes, their co-operation with the Committee has been essential in assisting us with our work. Finally, we would also like to extend our thanks to our Specialist Adviser, James Bulley OBE FRICS, Chief Executive of Trivandi Ltd. The wealth of knowledge and experience that he has shared with the Committee has been invaluable. However, we should make it clear that the views expressed in this report are ours alone.

31. In this report we have set out our preferred options for the delivery and scope of the Programme, and recognise that further work will be necessary in order to validate our conclusions in these areas, as well as test their feasibility. However, it is essential that Parliament now takes some key decisions on the future of the Programme and, in order to avoid a potentially costly delay, establishes the appropriate bodies in order to conduct and oversee the next phase of work. In Chapter 6, we have therefore set out a draft Motion for both Houses to consider, which would give effect to our recommendations.

1 Information provided by the Restoration and Renewal Programme Team. This figure includes the cost of replacing the M&E services, as well as the cost of associated work to access those services and to reinstate and make good any affected building structure or fabric. The percentage is based on the capital costs (construction only) of scenario E1A in the Independent Options Appraisal, based on a P50 confidence level (explained in Chapter 3) and applying the same assumptions as the Independent Options Appraisal.

2 Information taken from the Living Heritage pages of the Parliamentary website [accessed 26 July 2016]

3 With the exception of four meetings in Oxford during the 17th Century. Information taken from the Living Heritage pages of the Parliamentary website [accessed 26 July 2016] and the Bodleian Library website [accessed 26 July 2016]

4 Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster: Pre-Feasibility Study and Preliminary Strategic Business Case, October 2012, p 9. Further information about the development of the Parliamentary Estate can be found on the History of the Parliamentary Estate pages of the Parliamentary website.

6 Ibid., p 10

7 Ibid., p 11

8 Ibid., p 12

9 Ibid., p 13

10 UNESCO website: [accessed 26 July 2016]

11 Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Act 1990 (c. 12)

12 House of Commons Commission, House of Commons Services: Report to the House of Commons Commission by a team led by Sir Robin Ibbs, 27 November 1990 (Session 1990–91, HC 38)

14 Erskine May, 24th Edition (2011), p 10

16 Ibid., p 27. The 2012 Report drew on a wide range of documentation about the state of the Palace produced over the preceding 12 years. Those documents included an initial survey in 2000, a rationalisation review in 2002–03, a report on the respective merits of the primary heat transport media (2003), the work of the Palace Basement Engineering Project Board (2004–05), subsequent detailed consultancy work between 2005 and 2008, a review and further “due diligence” work on previous reports produced in 2008, further plans for a major Programme of M&E works in 2008 and 2009, a decant feasibility study from 2009, a detailed observation report on the state of the plant at highest risk of failure (also 2009), and two Office of Government Commerce gateway reviews in 2010 and 2011.

17 Ibid., p 5

18 Ibid., pp 14–16

19 Ibid., p 3

20 Ibid.

21 House of Commons Commission Statement, 29 October 2012 and Written Statement by the Chairman of Committees (Lord Sewel), on behalf of the House Committee, HL Deb, 30 October 2012, cols WS57–58

22 House of Commons Commission Statement, 29 October 2012

23 Written Statement by the Chairman of Committees (Lord Sewel), on behalf of the House Committee, HL Deb, 30 October 2012, cols WS57–58

26 Based on P10–P90 confidence levels (i.e. with a 10% to 90% probability).

27 Based on P10–P90 confidence levels.

28 Based on P10–P90 confidence levels.

30 HC Deb, 16 July 2015, col 1188 and HL Deb, 20 July 2015, cols 901–902

32 Written evidence is published on the Committee’s website.

33 Oral evidence is published on the Committee’s website.

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