150.The Sponsor Body’s responsibility for Parliamentary works relates to the Palace of Westminster, but the Bill provides a mechanism (Clause 1) by which works can be extended to other buildings within the parliamentary estate. We considered whether once the Sponsor Body assumes statutory responsibility for Restoration and Renewal it should take charge of the entirety of the parliamentary building works, including the work already planned on the northern part of the parliamentary estate, on which R&R will be hugely reliant. The Sponsor Body will also inherit the relationships, both good and bad, that Parliament enjoys with its neighbours and partners.
151.Clause 1 of the draft Bill extends the remit of the statutory bodies from restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster to any other part of the Parliamentary Estate. The explanatory notes to the Bill set out that the Bill is drafted in this fashion so that those exercising functions under the Bill “do so with a view to enabling both Houses of Parliament to return to the Palace of Westminster as soon as is reasonably practicable.” The motions agreed by both Houses requiring the establishment of the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority did not make any specific reference to work outside the Palace of Westminster. However, this aspect of the Bill may be regarded as practically necessary for the efficient delivery of any programme of works, given that it is intended that the House of Commons should be decanted to the northern part of the parliamentary estate.
152.The responsibilities of the Sponsor Body in relation to the Northern Estate Programme will be determined by the Commissions of both Houses, with the agreement of the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority. For the time being, therefore, the Northern Estate Programme (NEP) remains the responsibility of the House of Commons Commission and the Sponsor Body cannot initiate works in relation to the Northern Estate of its own volition. This distinction is important as the redevelopment of Richmond House as the location for the temporary Commons chamber is within the scope of the NEP.
153.The majority of our witnesses thought that it would be sensible for the Sponsor Body to take charge of the NEP as well as the works in the Palace, given the interdependency of the two programmes. Liz Peace said that it would be “highly desirable” for the NEP to be transferred into the R&R programme and placed under the auspices of the Sponsor Body. The Leader of the House of Commons, however, said that incorporating the NEP into the Sponsor Body’s responsibilities would add complexity to the project:
There is a general assumption that if the Sponsor Body is doing the Palace, it should take on the Northern Estate Programme because Richmond House is the decant solution. Now, obviously, that is the advantage, but the disadvantage is that it significantly adds to the complexity and scope of the project. Frankly, in my view it also risks the public’s saying, “Well, we can see the point of you restoring the Palace, but what are all these other buildings thrown in for?”, because the northern estates project is not just Richmond House, but all the upgrades to Norman Shaw North, Norman Shaw South, 1 Derby Gate and so on. [ … ]
Just because it would be neat to bring them in does not mean that we should do that, because you have then broadened the scope and created some dependencies that you did not necessarily previously have.
154.In oral evidence given to the Finance Committee in October 2018, Tom Healey noted that one feature of the Northern Estate Programme sitting outside of Restoration and Renewal was that it might create an inconsistent approach to decant of the Palace. If responsibility were not transferred to the Sponsor Body, decant of the Commons would fall under the Northern Estates work, but decant of the Lords would be part of the Restoration and Renewal programme.
155.The Sponsor Body is to be established with the single purpose of overseeing the delivery of parliamentary buildings works. The House of Commons Commission is currently responsible for the Northern Estate Programme, including the extensive redevelopment of Grade II listed Richmond House. The Commission is not an organisation whose primary purpose is to manage major building works and we do not believe that it should retain this responsibility when a dedicated organisation is ready and able to take over. We recommend that the shadow Sponsor Body take on de facto responsibility for all the works necessary for decant even before the Act to set up the statutory body is passed.
156.Once the Sponsor Body has been established in its substantive form we believe it should take control of the Northern Estate Programme. The timely decant of the Palace of Westminster can be achieved only if Richmond House is ready to accommodate the Commons. The Lords decant and transfer to a temporary home will be undertaken by the Sponsor Body and we believe it would be anomalous for the Sponsor Body not to have the same authority over the Commons decant.
157.The Leader of the House said that combining the two programmes would create complexity and dependencies, but the fundamental dependency of the programmes already exists. The complexity and cost of works will only be exacerbated if there are two separate management teams and delivery organisations attempting to coordinate their activity in decanting an entire working parliament of two Houses into a number of disparate buildings.
158.Moreover, the Leader of the House of Commons spoke about creating a legacy for Richmond House as part of Restoration and Renewal. Such an ambition underlines why the Sponsor Body, which will be responsible for the legacy of the Palace of Westminster, should also determine how the long term ambitions for the Palace complement other buildings subject to redevelopment, such as Richmond House.
159.In the course of our inquiry, we came across a problem that exemplifies some of the challenges that the shadow Sponsor Body is facing and that its statutory successor may continue to face in relation to carrying out Restoration and Renewal expeditiously and with due concern for economy. We learned that the plans for works on Richmond House which were already being developed by the current NEP team had been postulated on the contractors being able to get access to some land that is within the Ministry of Defence’s estate (it is currently used as a car park), largely to enable deliveries of materials to the construction site and the construction of temporary accommodation for those working on the building. However, all efforts to discuss these plans with the Ministry of Defence had been met with a refusal to engage—in contrast to the helpful attitude displayed by another neighbour, Scotland Yard. There may well be significant security reasons for not allowing this area to be used during the reconstruction of Richmond House, but that had not been clearly stated.
160.Although it would be possible to work around the loss of this land, because of the need to move access arrangements and dismantle and rebuild accommodation as the works developed, there would be significant extra costs—we were told in the region of £350 million—and delay (possibly resulting in decant being postponed for several years, until 2028). After a considerable time during which Commons officials were able to make no progress in this impasse, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was now involved in the discussion with the Ministry of Defence and the Leader of the House assured us that serious engagement was now under way. Unfortunately, the delay and uncertainty caused by the failure of the Ministry to engage with the House administration had already resulted in the need to draw up alternative plans without knowing whether they might be needed and to what extent any issues identified by the Ministry of Defence might be accommodated.
161.The situation in relation to the Ministry of Defence land must be clarified swiftly. The delay and confusion already caused highlights for us a number of issues that we have explored elsewhere in this report. The first is the need for the Northern Estate Programme to be brought under the aegis of the Sponsor Body as soon as practicable, as R&R is critically dependent on the arrangements for decant being as smooth and efficient as possible. The second is the need for some form of government commitment to the project so that, if necessary, Ministers can talk to Ministers to resolve problems. To a certain extent, this is a role for the Treasury, as the guarantor of value for taxpayers’ money: it seems to us that, had this problem occurred later in the project, the Treasury would have felt bound to comment on a possible £350 million increase in budget , and quite likely would have put pressure on the Ministry of Defence to engage. The third is the need for a strong, confident Sponsor Body, proactive in reporting problems and fully supported by Parliament in addressing them. Finally, we note that our inquiry appears to have had a role in bringing the ‘Ministry of Defence car park’ problem to the notice of Members of both Houses and others, which underlines the role of select committees in facilitating, as well as hindering, projects.
162.Plans for the decant of the House of Lords are much less advanced than those for the Commons. Ed Ollard told us that, although there are no formal agreements in place, the QEII Conference Centre is the preferred location for the House of Lords. Explaining the challenges in decanting to a building outside the parliamentary estate the Clerk of the Parliaments said:
Obviously, it is a separate, stand-alone island site. The main issue really is about accessibility and security. We will need to identify with much more granularity than we have been able to at the moment what those issues are. Then we will seek to discuss how to mitigate them. That is the most serious thing.
163.We anticipate that given its location, establishing the House of Lords in the QEII centre may bring with it security considerations which would demand solutions that require planning consent.
164.Providing for the decant of the House of Lords and taking on responsibility for the NEP will create numerous challenges for the Sponsor Body. Perhaps, the most significant amongst them will relate to planning in relation to the QEII centre and Richmond House. We examine how the draft Bill could assist the Sponsor Body to navigate the planning system in the following paragraphs.
165.In contrast to other major infrastructure projects such as the 2012 Olympics and HS2, the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster will be conducted within the confines of the existing planning system. Giving evidence to the House of Commons Finance Committee in October 2018, Tom Healey outlined the Restoration and Renewal programme team’s broad approach to planning:
Our planning assumption at the moment is, and always has been, that we will go through the normal planning process with Westminster City Council, Historic England and so on. If the Joint Committee were to identify a need for some kind of streamlined planning process then that might be beneficial to us, but we are open-minded about that.
166.We subsequently heard in evidence that to facilitate Parliament’s journey through the planning process, it is likely that the Sponsor Body will provide funding to Westminster City Council. Mechanisms exist that allow applicants to fund the additional staff a planning authority will require to help it cope with the huge demands a project such as this would place on the system.
167.In our attempts to understand how the planning process could be shaped for a project of this magnitude we examined how the Ecclesiastical Exemption supports the planning process for the restoration of historic churches. Becky Clark cautioned that this type of system does not streamline or simplify planning but simply creates a manageable method which recognises the size of the church estate. Ms Clark did not think it would be appropriate for Parliament to sit outside of the planning regime it has created and said “I can see no reason why the secular system cannot deal with this incredibly competently if you engage right, at the right moments.” Liz Peace agreed: noting the impact of potential planning problems in relation to the NEP, she said that she was concerned about objections to the redevelopment of Richmond House but that a public inquiry could be avoided by discussion with interested parties.
168.Sir John Armitt observed, however, that one substantial advantage of the legislation which governed the delivery of the 2012 Olympics Games was that it gave planning powers to the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). Sir John describe how the system worked and how the ODA used the powers:
To be fair, we did not abuse them and we actually set up a structure with the five local authorities affected where there was a planning committee and we submitted a planning application each time to “ourselves”—in inverted commas. We chaired that but, actually, the local authorities were represented and it was handled in the normal way. At the end of the day, when push came to shove, everybody knew that we could actually decide. But time was of the essence and that was the driver, of course. That made a big difference.
Sir John added that the streamlined process meant that planning decisions were not subject to ministerial review or at risk of being subject to public inquiries.
169.We are concerned that, without a definite date for completion, the R&R project may lose momentum. We acknowledge that it is for the Sponsor Body to formulate a timetable for the works but we consider that it would be helpful to the Sponsor Body if Parliament were to agree its timetable for completion of R&R, together with milestones along the way. The system of annual reports to Parliament set out in Paragraph 26 of Schedule 1 to the Bill would provide the mechanism for this, and we would expect that such annual reports would form part of the National Audit Office’s audit process.This does not mean that the Sponsor Body would be unable to come back to Parliament to propose significant changes to the timetable should there be major unforeseen circumstances that cause unavoidable delays.
170.The Leader of the House of Commons explained the rationale behind excluding any planning powers from the draft Bill. Ms Leadsom observed that the major difference between R&R and the 2012 Olympic Games was that the ODA was dealing with multiple planning authorities whereas in the case of R&R there is only one. Moreover,:
We felt that, on balance, it would be better for transparency and public confidence if we went through the normal planning rules as opposed to just allowing ourselves to get around them in any way we saw fit. We felt that, in terms of public buy-in, it would be better if we subjected ourselves to the normal planning rules.
Secondly, we did not feel that there were any insurmountable planning issues that could not be achieved through the normal planning rules. Thirdly, like with any other big project, we will be required to provide resources to Westminster Council to enable it to deal with our planning requirements. Finally, we are subject to a huge amount of consultation with different listed and expert authorities, which we felt would be sufficient to keep the planning aspects in a good place.
171.Even if Parliament was minded to incorporate planning powers into the Bill, the hybrid bill procedure is itself potentially time consuming and complex, and would not avoid the need to provide a forum for those who might object to the provisions of the Bill. The Leader of the House was sceptical that creating a hybrid Bill would be advantageous.
172.Historic England commented on the possibility of bypassing the normal planning system by means of legislation. It argued that the current system is based on a clear set of principles, goes through a recognised sequence of stages—including the possibility for statutory amenity societies to be closely involved before any planning application is made—and provides for democratic involvement. Historic England considered that the Hybrid Bill procedure was inferior in all these respects. It also challenged the idea that Hybrid Bills provided a swifter resolution to planning questions then the normal process. Historic England concluded that the normal planning procedure was more likely to be seen as fair and open, and was less complex and lengthy, than a Hybrid Bill.
173.Liz Peace showed little enthusiasm for adding complexity to the legislative process. Asked if she would like to be given planning powers she said
For the moment, no, because it is really important that the legislation goes through as quickly as possible and we can become substantive as quickly as possible. If you had been taking planning powers, the advice I have had is that it would have made it a far more complex Bill. It might even have become a hybrid Bill. It would have taken a lot longer and we would be in this vague shadow phase, which I think it is in everybody’s interest for us to move out of as quickly as possible.
174.We found no simple solution to the problem of ensuring that Restoration and Renewal can be undertaken in timely fashion, whilst guaranteeing that the letter and spirit of planning law are respected. Streamlining the system so that R&R does not become constrained by objections, complaints and inquirIes is attractive when considered against the demands of a project of such national importance. However, there is no legislative solution that would achieve this objective and we do not believe that creating a hybrid Bill would be of benefit to the project. Furthermore, we do not believe that Parliament should exempt itself from the planning regime that it has determined that all other projects should abide by.
175.We do not underestimate the challenges that the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority will face, but we believe that they can be managed through resourcing the needs of Westminster City Council and maintaining open communication with those parties that hold a fundamental interest in the project.
151 , para 10
152 Ibid, para 9
155 Finance Committee, Oral evidence: , HC 1615, October 2018, q 54
157 Q223, Q220
158 Q220, Q221
160 Finance Committee, Oral evidence: , HC 1615, October 2018, q 15
162 Ibid, q 17
168 Q104, 105 and 106
Published: 21 March 2019