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Tue, 22 September 2020

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Boris Johnson suggests moving Parliament to York amid major renovation programme

Boris Johnson suggests moving Parliament to York amid major renovation programme

The Prime Minister was accused of trying to send the multi-billion pound plan to overhaul Parliament “back to square one”. (PA)

4 min read

Boris Johnson has proposed moving both Houses of Parliament to York while the Palace of Westminster undergoes major refurbishment work.

In a letter to Parliament’s Restoration and Renewal programme, the Prime Minister floats the city as a “possible location” for a temporary move.

But he was accused of trying to send the multi-billion pound plan to overhaul Parliament “back to square one”.

Under the current proposals to overhaul the estate, politicians are expected to leave the Palace of Westminster for up to five years while work is completed.

The plans, billed as “the biggest heritage restoration ever undertaken in the UK”, would involve MPs moving to a temporary Commons chamber on Whitehall in the site of the former Department of Health headquarters.

But, in a letter to the chief executives of the renewal programme, first seen by The Times, Mr Johnson says a review of the scheme which is currently underway should look at “the full range of options”.

While the PM names a string of London locations including Richmond House, City Hall and Westminster’s QEII Centre as possible sites, he says “the review should also consider a possible location outside London”.

And Mr Johnson adds: “The government is considering establishing a government hub in York, and it would therefore make sense to consider this as possible location.”

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove confirmed at the weekend that the Government is looking at a major relocation programme to move Whitehall officials out of the capital.

In his letter, the Prime Minister also warns that work on the programme — which will be debated in the Commons on Thursday — should “move as quickly as possible, both because of the risks associated with the current state of the building and the need to provide certainty on the way forward and thereby minimise disruption to our business”.

He adds: “The Government does not prejudge any particular outcome. The review should determine how the various options should be assessed.

“The location of Parliament is a constitutional issue. The views of Parliamentarians will need to be considered carefully, as well as any legislative impact.”

But Chris Bryant, a Labour MP who was closely followed the programme, said Mr Johnson appeared to have “decided in his infinite wisdom that the restoration and renewal of parliament project should go back to square one”

He added: “The Tories have already wasted ten years and millions of pounds without mixing a single bucket of cement.

“Johnson is clearly incapable of making a decision and sticking with it. The sadness is that, just like in the 19th century, constant political meddling increases risk of a fire or another catastrophic failure to the building, and dramatically increases the cost to the taxpayer.

“This is one of the most loved buildings in the world, an icon of freedom and democracy. 

“We should be looking on this as a major infrastructure project, a means of improving access to Parliament for all, a training programme and employment opportunity for the whole country.

“Sadly I fear Boris Johnson wants to use this as an opportunity to banish Parliament rather than strengthen it.”

A review of the programme is expected to report in the autumn, with the independent ‘Sponsor Body’ in charge of that work asked to “consider the trade-offs between cost, timescales and scope that Parliament would need to make in order to ensure best value for money”.

The FDA union, which has members working in the House of Commons, warned the Government against "dreaming up new ways to further delay the restoration project".

National officer Helen Kenny said: “The existing plan for a full decant of both Commons and Lords, previously agreed by MPs, offers the best outcome both in terms of health and safety and value for money, and should get under way without further delay. The restoration and renewal programme must not be derailed by political point scoring.

“It is clear that the health and safety of the thousands of staff who work so hard to keep parliament functioning remains a secondary consideration to party politics.”

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