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By Lord Moylan
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Restoration & Renewal Debate Postponed Until After Election

Victoria Tower, London UK. Scaffoldings on Palace of Westminster during restoration works (Credit: Marek Slusarczyk / Alamy Stock Photo)

3 min read

MPs will be unable to debate the options tabled for Parliament’s restoration and renewal (R&R) before the general election, a member of the R&R Client Board has claimed.

The board is responsible for making critical strategic decisions about the R&R of the Palace of Westminster.

It met at the end of February to approve the programme’s strategic case: referring to the three potential options for progressing with the project. 

One option would be for all parliamentarians to fully decant from the estate while works continue. A second would see the Commons remain on site while the Lords move out fully. 

The final option – dubbed a “patch and mend” fallback by critics – would see both MPs and peers remain in the Palace while works continue around them. “Enhanced maintenance”, as it is known, would take around 70 years to complete. 

MPs were due to debate the strategic case before Christmas, but faced delays as the client board fleshed out the enhanced maintenance option. 

However, a member of the board attending the meeting said there “probably won’t now be a full parliamentary debate on it this side of an election. It’s not necessary in terms of the work being done, and I think both the Leader of the Commons and shadow leader think there isn’t much appetite for having a debate now”.

The strategic case will be published on Tuesday, before the House rises for the Easter recess. Parliament will be presented with detailed costings and timetables of the options next year. 

Following the meeting, members of the client board received an email from Dr Patsy Richards, the managing director of the Restoration and Renewal Client Team, announcing her retirement.

She wrote: “I want to share a personal update: with the milestone of the strategic case approval, the political course of a general election ahead and work started in earnest towards the cost proposals, I feel this is a natural time to handover.”

The decision to delay a debate comes after a letter, sent from parliamentary trade unions to members of the board ahead of their meeting, voicing “increasing concern” over “asbestos and legionella incidents, glass panels crashing into the atrium, crumbling masonry [and] water leaking into offices”, was allegedly ignored in the same meeting. 

The letter was signed by Trade Union Side’s president Ken Gall, Unite’s Parliamentary Staff Branch chair Max Freedman and GMB Branch for Members’ Staff chair Jenny Symmons.

However, speaking after the meeting took place, one member of the Board said: “We had that letter in front of us, but we didn’t discuss it, which I think was slightly surprising.

“I think it’s quite important that when we do take decisions we have their arguments very firmly in mind. Because most people in Parliament are transient except the staff who spend their whole careers here.”

Symmons said: “If that is the case, that’s extremely disappointing. From the GMB perspective we hope to work constructively with the client board to ensure the voices of staff are listened to and taken seriously into account when these decisions are being made.”

A Parliamentary Spokesperson said: “Parliament actively engages with trade union colleagues on all relevant matters, including on the Restoration and Renewal programme as well as on maintenance issues more generally. Where maintenance issues are identified, we act quickly to address them – and we are getting on with work across the Parliamentary estate to ensure the continued safety of those who work and visit here, and to support the continued business of Parliament.”

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