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‘The Palace needs to be a modern working environment for the future’ - what next for the Restoration and Renewal?

‘The Palace needs to be a modern working environment for the future’ - what next for the Restoration and Renewal?
4 min read

In the great chambers of the Houses of Parliament, recess is a quieter time, as Members focus on work in their constituencies and there is a break from much of the business of Parliament. As the Speaker calls time and the Lobby is locked, we are ready to make the most of a quieter Palace of Westminster.

For the Restoration and Renewal programme, recesses are when our teams have an important opportunity to get on site and carry on with the complex job of investigating and recording issues with the building, as we plan the restoration.

Parliamentary teams do a fantastic job, both keeping people safe in the Palace of Westminster, and looking after on-going maintenance and repairs.  But sadly, the building is falling apart faster than it can be fixed – more than £2 million is spent every week on on-going maintenance and repairs, and the building remains at risk of fire or flood. That’s why the Restoration and Renewal programme was established, and we are now a significant way into the vital stage of planning the essential works needed.

Over the recess periods since the beginning of the summer, more than 50 highly skilled R&R engineers, architectural surveyors, acoustics, lighting specialists, and ecologists, spent a combined 4,700 hours investigating the building and continuing to develop the most detailed record ever created.

This valuable time examining more than 2,000 rooms and spaces saw our teams record thousands of issues, including warping windows, cracks in stonework, widespread water damage, and mapping out some of the complex network of outdated electrical and mechanical systems.

Listening to the views of Members and others who work on the Parliamentary estate is at the heart of our approach

In winter recess and throughout 2022, even more detailed surveys, including “intrusive” surveys into the structure of the Palace, will be completed to continue building the most detailed record of the Palace ever created. This extensive planning, in-line with the approach of other major programmes and projects, is all part of our focus on carrying out the essential work required to save the Palace for future generations, in a cost-effective way.

The detailed insights will be used as we complete work on a comprehensive restoration plan, which will for the first time set out accurate costs, timescales and full detail of the essential work needed. Members will vote on this plan in 2023 before the main building works can start.

Ahead of that point, listening to the views of Members and others who work on the parliamentary estate is at the heart of our approach.

Members of both Houses provided information and opinions as part of our Strategic Review, published in March. Through engagement about specific design features in June and July we heard views from hundreds more.

This week, we are beginning a new round of conversations on the parliamentary estate with Members and other passholders, to seek feedback on various aspects of the functions the Palace needs to be a modern working environment for the future. We’ll be hosting pop-up exhibition stands in various locations within the Palace and our teams will be there to gather views and answer questions.

The restoration programme will include sympathetically restored historic spaces including the Chambers, Lobbies, Committees and Libraries. These spaces will look much the same as now, with subtle improvements made such as making the Chambers more accessible.

Our emerging approach includes options for improvements to facilities for Members, passholders and visitors, including visitors to Parliament’s education facilities. It will be up to Members of both Houses to decide if these improvements are needed over and above the essential works to save the fabric of the building, and we want to hear their views on this too. 

There will be further opportunities to give views before the parliamentary vote on the costed restoration plan.

This essential restoration and renewal will be properly planned, using the most detailed record of the Palace of Westminster ever assembled. Equally as important, it will be informed by the views and feedback of Members and the thousands of people who work in the Palace.

I look forward to meeting Members and parliamentary staff on the estate throughout November to hear your views, listen to your needs and to continue planning the restoration programme for this beautiful and historic place.

 

Sarah Johnson is chief executive of the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Sponsor Body.

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