The design solution
The approach being proposed allows the creation of an exceptional and flexible new building at Richmond House to meet the accommodation requirements of the House of Commons, whilst conserving multiple listed buildings across the Northern Estate and providing a lasting legacy.
Exploring options for the Northern Estate
Of all the options considered within London, only the Northern Estate can deliver the spatial requirements for the House of Commons to operate within a single safe and secure site.
The delivery of a temporary House of Commons Chamber, associated facilities and workspace for MPs and their staff to move from the Palace of Westminster to the Northern Estate is a significant challenge to fit within a constrained and already occupied site, full of listed buildings.
Considerable thought has gone into balancing critical, functional requirements, heritage and value for money.
The original option of locating the temporary Chamber within the courtyard of Richmond House, when properly tested, was found to create a number of issues. Critically, accommodating both the Chamber and the adjacent division (voting) lobbies requires partial redevelopment of Richmond House.
Further masterplan options were also developed to consider how space across the whole Northern Estate could be maximised to deliver the requirements.
From an initial long list, three principal options were developed for consideration – spreading the impact across the Northern Estate; utilising temporary buildings; and focusing the intervention on Richmond House. The option of utilising Portcullis House was also explored.
In this section we explain why the alternative options offer a far worse outcome with much less benefit than the preferred approach of focusing the intervention on Richmond House.
Alternative approach: spreading the impact across the Northern Estate
This option incorporated the temporary Chamber within the courtyard of Richmond House, but still required:
- The partial redevelopment of Richmond House in order to accommodate the Chamber and Division Lobbies.
- Significant interventions to almost all other buildings within the Northern Estate in order to accommodate the additional spaces required.
- A basement and infill development in the courtyard of Norman Shaw North, which was likely to cause an unacceptable level of harm to a Grade I listed building.
- Substantial redevelopment of the buildings along Parliament Street, with only their frontages retained.
Such an approach was unlikely to be supportable given the level of harm created to a range of listed buildings across the Estate.
Alternative approach: the use of temporary buildings
The use of temporary buildings, to be removed later, rather than permanent new structures, was assessed but demonstrated to be unsuitable for the following reasons:
- There is not enough space within the existing Northern Estate for temporary structures to meet all of the decant requirements.
- There would therefore be a requirement for an additional temporary building outside the current boundary of the Northern Estate on land not owned by Parliament, creating additional cost and risk for the project.
- This building would have a detrimental impact to the special character of Whitehall and the setting of Richmond Terrace and other nearby listed buildings.
- Even with an additional building, further temporary structures would be needed across the Estate in order to create the spaces required, harming the setting of listed buildings and impacting the quality of their working environment. The temporary structures themselves would create a poor quality working environment during their use.
- The construction requirements are similar to that for permanent buildings, but would need dismantling and so would be wasteful.
The Public Accounts Committee when reviewing this option agreed that such an approach should be dismissed and would not represent value for money for the taxpayer.
Locating the Chamber within Portcullis House
The option of locating the new House of Commons Chamber within the atrium of Portcullis House has been explored and found to be unworkable for the following reasons:
- The atrium space is too small to accommodate the Chamber itself and the division lobbies and the public and press galleries.
- Current facilities within Portcullis House would need to be relocated elsewhere.
- Additional space is still needed for MPs to relocate from the Palace of Westminster and be accommodated within the Northern Estate.
- Enhancements to the building services (power, broadcasting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning) would be required, both to improve resilience and to deal with increased occupancy.
- The location of the temporary Chamber within the atrium space would bring additional security considerations and would require new load bearing structures to distribute the weight of the new elements.
- The scale of these works would require the building to be emptied during the work, removing Committee Rooms and MPs’ offices which would need to be re-provided elsewhere and introducing a further decant phase into the Restoration and Renewal