Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster Contents

4Scope of the Programme

The extent of the Programme

197.As outlined in Chapter 2, the fundamental driver for the Restoration and Renewal Programme is the essential work required to the M&E services. It is the large scale of these works, and the complex interdependencies between the various systems, which means that the work now needs to be tackled as one comprehensive, strategic programme, rather than by routine, piecemeal maintenance.

198.In order to undertake a large, full-scale restoration and renewal of the essential services which allow the building to function, significant intrusive works will be required around the Palace. This is because, while the largest and most obvious parts of the M&E services are located in the basements, they are not wholly contained there. Every service in the basement supplies a network which runs throughout the entire building, supplying every room in the Palace. To give just one example, it would be no use replacing antiquated electricity cables in the basement if the wires which connected them to the lights and power sockets in offices were still 50 years old.

199.This means that a comprehensive programme to address the M&E problem will also require access to virtually every cable, pipe and wire which is secreted underneath floorboards, buried in wall cavities, or hidden within ceiling voids. This will mean disturbing or removing many heritage surfaces in the building—lifting floorboards, stripping wallpaper and removing plaster, taking down wall and ceiling panels. In this context, it would be a dereliction to overlook the essential conservation work which is required to preserve much of that heritage fabric.

200.In Chapter 2 we outlined the asbestos problem which will need to be tackled alongside the M&E works, as well as fire compartmentation works which could be carried out at the same time. A final area which will also need to be addressed as part of a basic programme of works is that of accessibility. The regulatory framework covering historic buildings is complex but, broadly speaking, there is a requirement on the proprietors of listed buildings to balance the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 with the various requirements relating to planning and conservation.105 Whatever the regulatory requirements, it is clear to us that access to the Palace for many Members, staff and visitors with disabilities is very difficult indeed, something we consider in more detail in paragraphs 220 to 223. We do not believe that it would be possible for Parliament to justify a renovation programme of this scale that did not also deliver significant improvements to access for people with disabilities.

201.The basic extent of the R&R Programme therefore covers:

a)the replacement of the outdated M&E plant, which is the immediate and pressing driver for the R&R Programme;

b)essential conservation work to the heritage fabric of the building, since much of that fabric will in any case be disturbed by the M&E work;

c)an extensive programme of asbestos removal, which will be necessary to allow full access to the M&E systems;

d)the introduction of full fire compartmentation, which will only be possible as existing M&E systems are rationalised and re-fitted, with redundant plant and asbestos removed; and

e)an element of work to improve access to the building for people with disabilities.

202.The question which then arises is: what other works should be included in the Programme? If Parliament is to spend a significant amount of money in order to restore the essential services within the building, and to face the significant disruption that this will inevitably involve, should the opportunity also be taken to do other works to improve and to future-proof the building?

203.We received a range of views on this subject. In the context of the current economic climate, some people urged us to ensure that the Programme would be restricted to its bare essentials. During our informal consultations, Members of both Houses cautioned against spending large sums of money on improvements to the building unless they were absolutely necessary.

204.However, many other witnesses urged us to take a wider view. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) said that:

“Conserving and safeguarding the heritage of the Palace of Westminster will need to go beyond simply preserving the historic fabric. It should be a forward looking process that keeps the buildings operational and useful for at least the next generation, without compromising its cultural assets.”106

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) also supported this approach, noting that:

“the restoration and renewal project offers a rare chance to dramatically improve the working environment of our legislature and address the myriad problems currently hindering public engagement with the building.”107

Outcome levels in the Independent Options Appraisal

205.The IOA considered three notional outcome levels, which were developed in order to allow a high-level comparison of the extent of the works which could be carried out within the Palace, and their potential costs and benefits. No detailed specifications have yet been produced for the R&R Programme so, while illustrative examples of potential works were mentioned in the IOA, the outcome levels did not include a prescriptive list of works which would definitely be undertaken as part of each scenario.

206. Furthermore, the outcome levels costed in the IOA were calculated using high-level comparative information, rather than by costing itemised pieces of work. The figures included in the report were not, therefore, budgets for the Programme, and the overall cost of the Programme will depend on the design and specification for each area of work, as well as on the delivery option and Programme length.

207.However, the analysis contained within the IOA did allow a comparison of the orders of magnitude of cost associated with different notional outcome levels. The IOA’s clear conclusion was that:

“The differences between the Outcome Levels are relatively modest and there is little difference in the overall cost and schedule for delivering each. The scope of work to be delivered under Outcome Level A represents the majority of all work to be completed within the Programme.”108

In other words, delivering more ambitious outcome levels will not cost substantially more, as a percentage of the total Programme cost, than delivering the minimum outcome.

208.It is clear, therefore, that when it comes to the scope of the Programme the main driver of the costs is the essential work required to the M&E services and the associated work contained within Outcome Level A. While there are ways in which the cost of the Programme can be significantly reduced, these relate more to how the works are conducted, rather than to what works are carried out.109

209.Below we outline some of the issues which witnesses have suggested could be addressed at the same time as the essential M&E works. It is not possible to categorise these works easily into Outcome Levels A, B or C, and so we have examined them as general themes of work which could, depending on how they were addressed, be considered as going beyond the ‘do minimum’ approach.

Opportunities to improve the Palace of Westminster

210.“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”110 These words are still as true now as when Sir Winston Churchill first uttered them in the debate on how to rebuild the House of Commons Chamber during the Second World War. The design and layout of a building can seriously affect the way in which people move around it, work within it and use its facilities.

211.The current Palace of Westminster has built up in a piecemeal fashion. In 1902, 28% of the building was residential and domestic space, compared to 5% used as office space. By 2013, various parts of the building had been adapted and modified to accommodate an increasingly busy Parliament, and the use of the Palace of Westminster had altered so that 26% was devoted to office space, and 6% as residential and domestic accommodation.111 These changes have taken place gradually, with no overall strategy. Alongside this, the number of people within the Palace of Westminster has increased dramatically over the past century. In addition to the Members of both Houses, there is a permanent staff of more than 2,000 in the House of Commons112 and approximately 500 in the House of Lords working on the Parliamentary Estate.113 Added to these are Members’ staff in both Houses and third-party employees, such as contractors, police officers and Royal Mail staff. While not all of these people have offices within the Palace of Westminster, the number of people working in and moving around the building, including around 1 million visitors a year, is huge compared to the number of people that would have been using it when originally built.

Table 6: Use of space in the Palace of Westminster over time

Use of space in the Palace of Westminster


(percentage of total)


(percentage of total)

Office space



Residential and domestic services












Committee and meeting space









Source: Information provided by the Restoration and Renewal Programme Team. The total net area in 1902 was different to that in 2013, so is not directly comparable. Figures are based on the best information available for each year and the percentages show the relative changes in use.

212.While the Palace of Westminster has evolved over time to meet these various demands, there is a general sense that the building has not been able to keep up with the rate of change in its use. Some adaptations have been made in order to assist people with mobility impairments, but these changes have generally been made incrementally rather than developed as part of an overall strategy. New technologies have been installed in a piecemeal fashion—such as steam heating, mechanical ventilation, telephones, electricity, broadcasting and data networks—and these have all been retrofitted into a Victorian building which was never designed to accommodate this kind of infrastructure. Furthermore, as the security climate has changed over recent decades, the building has had to adapt to accommodate new facilities such as security search-points, CCTV, automated access systems and stand-off barriers. While these facilities are essential to protect the safety of those who visit and work in the building, they have led to significant changes in the way people move around the building, one of the most striking examples being the closure to the public of St Stephen’s Entrance.

213.Through our Call for Evidence, and in our evidence sessions, we asked witnesses for their views on the opportunities that the Programme might provide in order to adapt the building and to improve the way in which people can move around and work within it. The list of possible improvements which could be made to the building is almost limitless, but below are some of the main themes highlighted in the evidence.

Public access and visitor facilities

214.One of the common themes throughout the evidence we received was that the building is not well designed or adapted for visitors. The Palace of Westminster welcomes over 1 million visitors a year, who come for a wide variety of reasons:114

215.Improvement to public access has been one of Parliament’s most important achievements in recent years. However, the Parliamentary Visitors Group noted that public access “was not a central requirement of the original building,” and that as Parliament has increasingly opened its doors and its proceedings, “the challenges of access, security, heritage and conservation, ongoing maintenance, and visitor flow have become acute.”115

216.The problems can begin before visitors even enter the building. Oonagh Gay, former Head of the Parliament and Constitution Centre in the House of Commons Library, told us that the Palace was not currently configured to be welcoming to the public. She commented that there were often “long queues for access at the busiest entrance points,” and suggested that any development of the Palace “should be able to separate out much more easily those visiting the Palace for heritage reasons from those who wish to see or participate in democracy in action.”116 Professor Jonathan Drori CBE, Chairman of the Speaker’s Advisory Council on Public Engagement, also pointed out some of the physical limitations with the building:

“Think about even the people who are invited to Parliament for semi-public events. These are the great and the good and you are asking them to stand in the rain for 20 minutes or more, and often longer. What hope for the rest? Compare that with some other places such as the Scottish Parliament, for example, or the Bundestag in Germany, which feel a lot more welcoming.”117

217.Despite the best efforts of Members and staff in both Houses, there are also frustrations for visitors once they are in the building. On a practical level, these problems can include a lack of places to sit down, poor signage, and a lack of opportunities to participate.118 Others told us that public access to Parliament was not just about the physical building, but also the technological access too. Mr Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of NESTA, told us that it was “almost impossible” to conceive of either a decanted Parliament or a rebuilt Parliament “without the digital [access] being absolutely integral to how you think about every aspect of it.”119

218.We received various suggestions for how public access to the Palace of Westminster, and to the work of Parliament, might be improved, outlined in Box 3.

Box 3: How might access to Parliament be improved?

Though this is not intended to be an exhaustive list, below is a sample of the type of suggestions we received regarding how public access to the building and to the work of Parliament might be improved:

  • Improve the welcome, signage, orientation and explanatory material around the Palace;
  • Improve the management of secure access for different categories of visitor to Parliament;
  • Create areas for the public to meet Members, engage with the business of both Houses (both in the Chambers and in committees), and to learn about Parliament;
  • Establish a ‘viewing space’ for those visitors who do not want to watch proceedings for a long period of time, but who wish to spend a few minutes viewing business in either Chamber;
  • Improve practical facilities for visitors, such as meeting spaces, lavatories, places to sit, cafés, bag storage, shops, private dining and events spaces;
  • Create a one-way Visitor Route, with appropriate facilities along the Route, and modern interactive displays explaining how Parliament works, its history and the value of the Palace of Westminster;
  • Rethink the way in which visitors move around the Palace and provide better ‘zoning’ of areas to demarcate public and private areas;
  • Improve the facilities for people with disabilities;
  • Create a permanent location for a new Education Centre;
  • Increase the amount of space provided for displays and exhibitions; and
  • Incorporate new digital technologies in order to allow members of the public to engage with Parliamentary proceedings remotely.

Source: Written evidence from the Parliamentary Visitors Group (RAR0059).

219.Each of the suggestions in Box 3 is likely to have its own advantages and disadvantages, and all would need to be subjected to a rigorous value-for-money assessment. We have not, therefore, attempted to scrutinise any of the proposals in detail at this stage. However, it is clear that if a large programme of work is to be carried out within the Palace, then it would also provide the opportunity to improve facilities for the 1 million visitors a year who visit the building. The message from the Parliamentary Visitors Group was that:

“Major construction work has to be undertaken on the Palace of Westminster, which also presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink the layout and significantly improve both physical access, security and facilities in the Palace, and also public engagement with Parliament. This will help improve the return on investment of the works, and provide a lasting legacy for the public.”120


220.The lack of facilities for mobility-impaired and other disabled people was another major theme throughout the evidence we received, and an issue which affected Members, staff and visitors to the building. For Members, problems began in the Chambers of the two Houses, where physical access is limited due to the fixed layout, steps and lack of wheelchair space. Baroness Thomas of Winchester, a member of ParliAble121 and an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Disability, told us that in the House of Lords Chamber:

“It is possible to get four wheelchair/mobility scooter users in the space behind the Clerks and in front of the crossbench, but only just, and if the crossbench is full, then there is no room for manoeuvre … Ideally we would like to sit near our party groups, but this would only be possible with some redesigning of the furniture in the Chamber.”122

221.Professor Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender at the University of Bristol, drew attention to the unequal provision of seating within the House of Commons, which prevented those with a physical disability being able to take part in proceedings in the same way as other Members. She argued that “Members using wheelchairs should be able to sit with their party colleagues on the backbenches, and if appointed to the frontbenches to sit with the Cabinet and Government.”123 Other serious problems identified by witnesses include the lack, and inappropriate placement, of lifts throughout the building, heavy doors which are difficult to open, and the lack of accessible lavatories.124 Furthermore, Baroness Thomas told us that there were some “easy adjustments” which could be made to lavatories in order to make them more suitable for those with mobility impairments, which need not be costly.125

222.Accessibility issues concern more than just physical access though. Baroness Thomas of Winchester noted that there was no sound reinforcement in the House of Lords Chamber where wheelchair users sit, as there is for other Members.126 This is an important point, as noise levels and poor acoustics in both Chambers mean that even Members with acute hearing rely on the Chamber sound system to follow proceedings. In addition to the Chambers, there might also be scope to further improve the sound systems in the committee rooms and other areas of the Palace to provide a better experience for those with a hearing impairment.127 Finally, the Chambers and other areas of the Palace can also be difficult to navigate for those with a sight impairment.

223.The Trade Union Side, representing staff in the House of Commons, told us that resources should be focussed on “ensuring that Parliament as a future employer can welcome people of all abilities” and that the R&R Programme “must ensure that all reasonable adjustments—as an absolute minimum—be made so as to allow disabled staff to carry out roles across the House.”128 The Parliamentary Visitors Group told us that the R&R Programme “presents a real opportunity to provide a more open, inclusive and accessible Parliament, including full disabled access throughout the Palace.”129

Facilities for the media

224.Accessibility is not just about the physical adaptations to the building; it is also about ensuring that the work of both Houses is easily accessible and communicated to members of the public. The media obviously play a large role in communicating the work of Parliament to the wider world, and it will be important to ensure that adequate provision is made for the media when both Houses return to the building after the works.

225.In addition to giving oral evidence, members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery gave some Members of the Committee tours around their offices in the House of Commons. From our conversations with journalists we encountered during those tours, it became apparent that one of the most important factors for them was proximity to the Chambers. We were told that it is extremely important for journalists to be able to access the Commons Chamber and all committee rooms quickly. Furthermore, members of the Press Association maintain a constant presence in the House of Lords Chamber, so also need continual access to that. Apart from the formal spaces, members of the press also valued informal ‘huddle’ spaces where they could gather quickly to speak to Government officials and spokespeople after an important debate. Their main message was that for effective scrutiny and reporting it was important for journalists to be located within the heart of the building where they could interact regularly with Members of both Houses.

226.While the facilities in the current Press Gallery were generally viewed to be good, there was scope for improvements to be made. One of the major areas of concern was the lack of facilities for members of the media with a disability. In oral evidence, Mr Tony Grew, Honorary Secretary of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, told us that no part of the Press Gallery was accessible to somebody in a wheelchair, a fact which he felt was “an outrage in 2016.”130 There was also scope to improve the technology available within the Press Gallery’s offices, particularly the wi-fi and mobile phone coverage.131

227.Members of the Press Gallery were also keen to stress to us the importance of individual offices. Currently, most journalists in the Press Gallery occupy large shared offices, with many different news agencies often operating within one room. The journalists we spoke to indicated that this generally worked fairly well, and that it depended on trust between colleagues in the same room. However, they stressed that it was important to have some walls, and that they would not wish to lose the provision of office space when they returned to the Palace of Westminster. In Mr Grew’s view, a large media centre which put all the media into one large room, without also providing separate offices, “would be detrimental to the way in which the Gallery operates”.132

228.At this stage in the Programme, it is too early to make suggestions on the designs for the refurbished Palace of Westminster, or to recommend particular criteria for specific offices. However, the press are one of the most important channels of communication between Parliament and the public, and it is vital that adequate facilities are present in the Palace of Westminster in order to allow Parliamentary reporting to continue. We therefore note that it will be important to ensure that the concerns of the Parliamentary Press Gallery are taken into account as the plans for the Programme are developed, so that members of the Press Gallery can feed in their suggestions for the development of facilities for the media.


229.From a conservation perspective, the Palace is in a vulnerable state. Despite efforts by the Parliamentary Estates Directorate to maintain the Palace, its decoration and interiors, there are still a number of conservation concerns, in terms of both dilapidation and inappropriate treatment. Examples of this dilapidation include part of the ceiling falling down in the House of Lords Chamber in 1980, small pieces of timber falling from the roof of Westminster Hall several times a year, or stonework becoming loose, stained or crumbled. A brief walk around the building will also provide tangible evidence of water penetration in almost every part of it.133 A continuing programme to replace the cast iron roofs around the Palace is intended to prevent further water penetration into the building, but the damage and corrosion already caused to stonework, timber and metal from permeating rainwater will take much longer to fix.

230.Many parts of the Palace are in a shabby condition, “reflecting their age and the high level of wear and tear caused by intensive use.”134 A number of important conservation works required throughout the Palace cannot be effectively tackled while Parliament is in occupation, even during the long summer recesses. One such example is the 18 statues of the ‘Magna Carta barons’ which are situated at a high level in the House of Lords Chamber. Four of the statues sit above the public gallery and can be reached relatively easily, allowing regular cleaning. However, the other 14 are much more difficult to access and, as a result, are now coated in a thick layer of dust. Furthermore, a study of two of the statues in 2000 showed that the statues also suffer from corrosion and decay. While those two statues were conserved at the time, ideally the others should all be subjected to high pressure water cleaning in order to remove the dust and old varnish, and then filled where necessary and repainted and varnished in order to preserve them. The only way to carry out this conservation work would be to remove the statues, requiring the erection of tall scaffolds on the stepped floor at either side of the Chamber. This would be very expensive, would need to be done during a recess in such a way that the Chamber could still be reinstated at short notice for a recall, and would disrupt visitor access.135

231.An example such as this might seem trivial, but it typifies the way in which the very intensive use of the building presents a challenge even to routine conservation activity. There are numerous conservation tasks such as this which cannot be carried out around the normal work of Parliament and which are therefore indefinitely postponed. While these works would clearly not warrant a major programme of works in their own right, it would be very difficult to justify not including some of them as part of a larger renovation programme. As explained in Chapter 2, tackling the M&E services not only requires access to the basements, but also the cables, pipes and wires which serve every room in the Palace, whether they are underneath carpets, inside wood panelling, behind plasterwork or elsewhere. As with all major building works, there will be a significant element of ‘making good’ after these intrusive works, which means that a great deal of restoration of the damaged fabric of the building will be necessary.

232.Going beyond basic conservation works, if the scope of the R&R Programme were to be widened it could also provide an opportunity to restore the historical integrity of the Palace of Westminster. This could include opening up certain historic parts of the building which are currently inaccessible or poorly used; an example of this is shown in Box 4.

233.Finally, some 20th Century additions to the building, including the temporary cabin on the roof of Star Chamber Court, the flat roof on top of the Cloisters and the marquees on the Terrace, are not in keeping with the original building. Parliament could choose to use the R&R Programme as an opportunity to correct some of these anomalies.

Box 4: Cloister Court: a case study

Cloister Court is a little known and rarely seen gem hidden within the Palace of Westminster. Built in about 1520 by Henry VIII as part of the College of St Stephen, it is one of the few surviving medieval parts of the Palace, attached to the south-east side of Westminster Hall.

During the fire of 1834, Cloister Court sustained some damage, mostly to the southern half of its roof, but the basic structure and stonework were preserved. Its shape and design heavily influenced Charles Barry when designing the new Palace of Westminster. Barry decided to make a feature of the cloisters, designing the House of Commons entrance in such a way that MPs would enter the building at the side of the courtyard and then walk around the cloisters, with the ground floor acting as a cloakroom and one side of the upper storey acting as Members’ Entrance to the Commons Lobby.

Bombing during the Second World War destroyed two sides of Cloister Court, which were restored after the war using some of the original stones and bosses. However, the stonework is now badly degraded and many areas have begun to crumble. The damage is caused by sulphation—a process whereby calcium carbonate in the stone reacts with sulphurous gases, often caused by pollution, and creates a black deposit on the stone—and by other pollution, weathering and general wear and tear. Furthermore, the foundations of the Court are fairly shallow and the current, non-porous paving does not allow proper surface-water drainage.

A programme of courtyard cleaning is currently underway and it is hoped that the stonework in Cloister Court will be cleaned before the R&R Programme begins. However, it will not address problems with accessibility to the courtyard. Currently, Cloister Court is enclosed on all sides by offices. This means that most Members and staff, let alone visitors, can never access Cloister Court, and would not know how to find it if they tried. This is a great pity, given its significant historic and architectural value.

If the scope of the R&R Programme were to be widened beyond the ‘do minimum’ approach, it could provide an opportunity to reopen the courtyard, integrating it into the rest of the building again. While detailed designs have not been worked up, possible options could include recreating an entrance through Members’ Cloakroom in the House of Commons. If a more radical approach were adopted, and the flow of people moving around the building rethought, it might also be possible to include Cloister Court as part of the public Visitor Route, giving everybody a chance to enjoy the historic courtyard.

Figure 8: Cloister Court

Photo showing Cloister Court

Source: Information provided by the Parliamentary Estates Directorate

Working environment

234.As the use of the Palace of Westminster has evolved over time, various adaptations have been made to the building in an attempt to utilise the space in the best possible way. However, the evidence we received highlighted that the rate of change to facilities in the building had not kept pace with the changing working patterns and practices of Parliament, its Members and staff.

235.At peak periods, committee rooms are often oversubscribed, meaning that there are not enough rooms for Parliamentary purposes.136 Both Houses currently operate a policy whereby select committee meetings can ‘bump’ meetings arranged by individual Members, and many Members have told us that this has often resulted in important meetings they are hosting having to be hastily rearranged or cancelled altogether. Aside from formal meeting rooms, there is also a lack of informal meeting space throughout the Palace where, for example, MPs can meet their constituents. Professor Childs suggested that, in a restored Palace of Westminster, meeting rooms should be designed with flexibility in mind so that they could easily be adapted for different uses. Such flexibility could perhaps include “the flexibility to rearrange furniture so as to make a space more intimate, less intimidating to those not used to attending and speaking in the House”.137

236.Committee rooms could also be adapted in order to facilitate participation in Parliamentary proceedings. As an example, Professor Childs suggested that any renovation of the Palace should provide better technological facilities for Members, witnesses and visitors taking part in proceedings, such as “highest quality virtual participation; wi-fi; sufficient plugs for charging iPads, and laptops”.138 Mr Mulgan also suggested that Parliament should be looking to the future when planning the R&R Programme, asking questions such as whether it should be possible, “when you are discussing fisheries policy, to beam in people from fishing communities across the country”, or to have data on display to aid the discussion. He told us that there were a vast array of technologies available which Parliament could make greater use of in order to encourage more public participation in Parliamentary proceedings.139

237.The lack of informal meeting spaces for Members and the public could also be addressed as part of the R&R Programme. While Portcullis House has provided some informal meeting space which supports more modern ways of working, these kinds of facilities are lacking throughout the rest of the Estate. Professor Childs suggested that some more informal “café-like” space should be included in the Palace. She suggested that this could be provided for by glazing over courtyards, perhaps designing them as “flexible spaces that can be used in different ways at different times, e.g. cafés, reception areas, bookable private MP meeting spaces.”140

Environmental performance

238.While significant improvements have been made to the environmental performance of the Palace in recent years, the R&R Programme could provide scope to build on these changes even further. In terms of the M&E services, the Pre-Feasibility Report highlighted the fact that improvements in energy efficiency would be made during the course of the medium-term M&E programme, by installing more modern pumps, sensors and controls in plant rooms. However, the full benefit of these improvements will only be felt as and when secondary services can be fully modernised as well. Poor insulation is also responsible for poor energy efficiency around windows and in roof spaces. The majority of windows in the Palace retain their original design, with a bespoke closing mechanism, which now allows significant infiltration of cold air in the winter and leakage of artificially cooled air in the summer.141 It is believed that none of the approximately 3,800 original, bronze-framed windows in the Palace now closes properly. Refurbishment of these windows would go a long way to reducing the building’s carbon footprint and reducing energy bills.

239.Undertaking works to improve environmental performance in a Grade I listed building can be complex. Sealing the building to improve heating and cooling efficiency might increase the need for ventilation and humidity control, which might in turn reduce or negate the energy savings. A full programme of fabric improvements to reduce energy consumption would also have to be sensitive to heritage considerations and, because it would involve disruptive work in rooms and corridors, would therefore be best undertaken as part of a general refurbishment.142

240.While improving the environmental performance of the building may be a complex task, many Members and staff have impressed on us the need to improve Parliament’s performance in this area. The House of Commons Trade Union Side said that the House needed to look at “reducing to a minimum” the carbon footprint of a restored and renewed Palace of Westminster.143

241.It is clear that the Palace of Westminster lags behind many other public buildings in terms of its standards of visitor facilities, accessibility, working environment and environmental performance. There is also a significant amount of conservation work which is required to the building, over and above simply making it watertight. While each of these issues could be addressed in part by adopting a ‘bare minimum’ approach to the R&R Programme, there is also significant scope to go further and to make real, significant changes to the way in which the building operates and how people function within it.

Proposed scope of the Programme

242.Throughout our inquiry, we have been extremely conscious of the need to ensure value for money for the taxpayer. However, the actual design briefs and specifications for the R&R Programme will not be developed until the next stage of the Programme, over the next few years, which means that precise costs for specific areas of work are not yet available. In due course, the Delivery Authority will need to take a view on the value for money which each of the areas of improvements might offer, which can then be factored into the final business case. At this stage, we have therefore taken a high-level view of the types of works which it would be sensible to conduct while a large-scale programme of renovation is taking place.

243.The view of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) was that:

“A parliamentary refurbishment is for life, or at least for a generation. The whole life of the project needs to be considered. In particular, whilst it may be tempting to economise on some aspects of the project to reduce costs, or the risk of a tabloid headline, it is a false economy”.144

244.Alan Baxter Ltd, an engineering consultancy, also told us that:

“A major refurbishment of the Palace is an opportunity that we will not see again for at least another 100 years or so. Much has changed in the last one and a half centuries that could never have been envisaged by Barry or Pugin. The refurbishment works must incorporate the flexibility in its infrastructure to evolve with society and the needs of Parliament.”145

245.In the current fiscal climate, we will need to be able to demonstrate that every penny spent on the Programme, over and above the bare minimum required to keep the building in a habitable condition, delivers a clear benefit to the nation. These benefits could be in the form of a more effective and efficient Parliament, better opportunities for people to engage with their elected representatives, improved public access to an important historic building, or reduced running costs associated with the building. Subject to value-for-money assessments, we also need to ensure that the building is ‘future-proofed’ so that there never needs to be another programme of this scale again.

246.Mr Grew from the Parliamentary Press Gallery recognised the dilemma faced by Parliament, noting that:

“You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. You will face criticism from the press if you decide to spend money to refurbish the building for the 21st Century. Similarly, if it falls down, you will probably face even greater criticism. It is a political decision that will take with it the consequences that come with political decisions.”146

In his opinion, if Parliament were only to conduct the bare minimum of works required, it would “be missing the biggest opportunity in a century to remake, reform and reshape the building to make it fit … future proofing is the way to go.”147

247.The Restoration and Renewal Programme represents a one-off opportunity to renew and transform the Palace of Westminster into a home fit for a 21st Century Parliament, while preserving the best aspects of its fine Victorian heritage. Future generations will not thank us if we fail to seize that opportunity, and instead preserve for posterity all the obstacles to public access and to the effective working of Parliament which the building currently embodies. We therefore conclude that it would be a mistake to miss this one-off opportunity, while essential works are being conducted to the Palace, to deliver other defined benefits as long as they offer excellent value for money at the same time. But nor should we spend taxpayers’ money on unnecessary embellishments and fripperies.

248.It is not possible at this stage to provide a definitive list of the types of work that might be included in the Programme and more detailed specifications will need to be drawn up by the Delivery Authority in due course. However, we recommend that the scope of works should be extended beyond the basic ‘do minimum’ option, given that the marginal cost of much of this work will be relatively low, and there is the scope to achieve significant economies of scale by incorporating it into the wider Programme.

249.A key test for all the design decisions for the Programme should be the delivery of value for money for the taxpayer. In the current fiscal climate, we will need to be able to demonstrate convincingly that every penny which is spent on the Programme, beyond the bare minimum which is needed to secure the future of the Palace of Westminster, delivers a clear benefit to the nation. The precise scope, quality and design of each area of work will need to be tested and considered in much greater detail as the Programme progresses, and then subjected to a rigorous business case. While we recommend that further works should be carried out in addition to the essential mechanical and electrical services, the cost of the Programme and potential value for money for the taxpayer will need to be considered and reviewed at every stage. The works should also be designed in order to equip Parliament for the future and to ensure that another programme of this scale is never required again.

250.Subject to rigorous value-for-money assessments being conducted by the Delivery Authority, we recommend that, as well as the minimum, essential level of work required under the Restoration and Renewal Programme, both Houses should agree in principle to include in the scope of the Restoration and Renewal Programme additional improvements to the building.

Proposed Objectives and Guiding Principles

251.For the purposes of the IOA, the R&R Programme Board agreed a number of objectives for the R&R Programme.148 As part of the next stage of the R&R Programme, strategic briefs will need to be assimilated by architects and engineers and detailed designs for the building will then be developed. In order to guide this process a clear steer on Parliament’s requirements will be needed and, while the objectives outlined above were suitable for the initial phase of the Programme, some more detailed guidance will be required for the design stage. In conjunction with the Programme Team, we have therefore developed some proposed Objectives and Guiding Principles for the scope of the Programme (outlined in Box 5). These will inevitably need to be refined further over time, and in consultation with Members and staff in both Houses, but we believe that the themes outlined in the Objectives and Guiding Principles should be the main areas of focus for the R&R Programme.

252.In order to guide the development of the brief for the Restoration and Renewal Programme, we recommend a series of Objectives and Guiding Principles for the R&R Programme, set out in Box 5.

Box 5: Recommended Objectives and Guiding Principles for the Scope of the Restoration and Renewal Programme


In order to guide the development of the brief for the Restoration and Renewal Programme, we recommend the following Objectives for the Scope of the Restoration and Renewal Programme.

The Restoration and Renewal Programme must:

  • A: Deliver value for money for the taxpayer
  • B: Reduce Parliament’s operational risk
  • C: Meet the needs of a 21st Century Parliament for (i) the public and (ii) Parliamentarians
  • D: Protect the iconic and national heritage of the Palace of Westminster
  • E: Ensure the security of Parliament

Guiding Principles

In order to fulfil these Objectives, we also recommend the following Guiding Principles.

A: To deliver value for money for the taxpayer

  • R&R will enable mechanical and electrical infrastructure in the Palace to be maintained at reduced cost without the need for a further programme of this scale.
  • R&R will explore the most cost-effective and sustainable ways of providing logistical support to the building in the long term.
  • R&R will plan any enabling works for temporary accommodation with longer-term benefits in mind.
  • R&R will ensure that all nations and regions of the UK will have the opportunity to benefit from business and employment contracts generated by the programme.
  • R&R will be managed and delivered in an open and transparent manner.
  • R&R will be delivered strictly according to a plan with a clearly defined scope and timetable, agreed between an appropriately structured Parliamentary body and an independent Delivery Authority.

B: To reduce Parliament’s operational risk

  • R&R will enable the business of Parliament to continue uninterrupted by reducing the risk of a critical failure of services (power, heating, ventilation, etc.) or other health or safety risks.
  • R&R will deliver infrastructure and services based on value for money that can be upgraded in the future with minimal disruption.
  • R&R will lead by example by making environmentally sustainable choices.

C: To meet the needs of a 21st century Parliament for (i) the public

  • R&R will support rights of direct and indirect public access to Parliament, including creating space in the Palace for Members of both Houses to meet constituents, the public and the media.
  • R&R will improve the ways in which the public can engage with the work and heritage of Parliament, in terms of both physical and digital access, and in doing so balance the needs of public access with the working needs of Parliament.
  • R&R will bring the Palace of Westminster up to appropriate standards of disability access and fire protection, at least commensurate with the minimum standards expected for public buildings.

C: To meet the needs of a 21st Century Parliament for (ii) Parliamentarians

  • R&R will create a suitable working environment within the Palace for Members and staff.
  • R&R design solutions for the Palace will strike a balance between private workspace, flexible work and meeting spaces, formal meeting spaces, and public and informal meeting spaces.

D: To protect the iconic and national heritage of the Palace of Westminster

  • R&R will expedite the repair and restoration of damaged areas of the Palace and safeguard the fabric of the building against irreversible damage, while recognising the need for ongoing conservation work after the period of the Programme.
  • R&R will maintain the Palace of Westminster’s status as a Grade I listed building and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • R&R will reaffirm the historical integrity of the Palace.

105 See Historic England’s guidance, Easy Access to Historic Buildings (June 2015)

106 Written evidence from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RAR0035)

107 Written evidence from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RAR0052)

109 Ibid., p 10

110 HC Deb, 28 October 1943, col 403

111 Information provided by the Restoration and Renewal Programme Team.

112 House of Commons Commission Annual Report 2014–15 (HC 341, Session 2015–16), p 42. Figures for the House of Commons include staff of the Parliamentary Digital Service and the Parliamentary Estates Directorate, which serve both Houses.

113 House of Lords Annual Report 2014–15 (HL Paper 23, Session 2015–16), p 65

114 Written evidence from the Parliamentary Visitors Group (RAR0059) and information provided by the Parliamentary Archives.

115 Written evidence from the Parliamentary Visitors Group (RAR0059)

116 Written evidence from Oonagh Gay (RAR0020)

118 Written evidence from the Parliamentary Visitors Group (RAR0059)

120 Written evidence from the Parliamentary Visitors Group (RAR0059)

121 ParliAble is a workplace equality network in support of disabled people in Parliament.

122 Written evidence from Baroness Thomas of Winchester MBE (RAR0056)

123 Written evidence from Professor Sarah Childs (RAR0031)

124 Written evidence from Baroness Thomas of Winchester MBE (RAR0056)

125 Written evidence from Baroness Thomas of Winchester MBE (RAR0056)

126 Written evidence from Baroness Thomas of Winchester MBE (RAR0056).

127 Written evidence from Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (RAR0029)

128 Written evidence from the Trade Union Side, House of Commons (RAR0023)

129 Written evidence from the Parliamentary Visitors Group (RAR0059)

134 Ibid., p 22

135 Information provided by the Parliamentary Estates Directorate and Written Answer by the Chairman of Committees (Lord Sewel), HL Deb, 3 July 2013, col WA 224

136 Written evidence from Andrew Makower (RAR0014)

137 Written evidence from Professor Sarah Childs (RAR0031)

138 Ibid.

140 Written evidence from Professor Sarah Childs (RAR0031)

142 Ibid., p 23

143 Written evidence from the Trade Union Side, House of Commons (RAR0023)

144 Written evidence from the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (RAR0063)

145 Written evidence from Alan Baxter Ltd (RAR0055)

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