Frequently asked questions
1. Why was it decided to fully vacate the Palace of Westminster during the Restoration & Renewal Programme?
- The decision to fully vacate the Palace of Westminster was taken following an extensive period of research and evaluation and after the scrutiny of both Houses of Parliament.
- In December 2013, a consortium was appointed to assess the options, costs, and timescales for a major refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster. In June 2015 their ‘Independent Options Appraisal’ was published which compared three options – a rolling programme of works whilst the building remains in use; the refurbishment of half the building at a time with each House vacating in turn; and the full move out of the Palace of Westminster enabling all works to be delivered together. The report concluded that the fully vacated option is the lowest cost, fastest option and ‘provides the best opportunity to mitigate disruption and nuisance over the long-term.’
- A Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament was then established to consider the report. Following its year-long inquiry, in September 2016, it concurred that the most cost-effective and quickest option to undertake the essential works to the Palace of Westminster would be for all Members and staff to move out of the building temporarily and in one single phase while the works take place.
- In January and February 2018, the Government tabled two motions on restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, with a debate in the House of Commons in late January and in the Lords in early February. With a joint resolution, both Houses then formally backed the decision for a full decant as the ‘best and most cost-effective way’ of carrying out the works.
2. Why was Parliament’s Northern Estate selected as the preferred option as a temporary home for the House of Commons?
- To inform the inquiry of the Joint Committee in 2015-6, a review of potential relocation options was conducted by the Restoration and Renewal Programme team taking into account advice from the Joint Committee and in consultation with the Government Property Unit.
- As a starting point, it was reaffirmed by the Joint Committee that Parliament should remain in close proximity to Government departments in and around Westminster, noting that moving temporary accommodation a long way from Whitehall would ‘add significantly to the cost and logistical complexity of the R & R programme’.
- The relocation options process filtered down over 100 sites in London through a long-listing and short-listing process, assessed against a range of Critical Success Factors and Investment Objectives.
- A recommendation was made that, subject to further feasibility, Richmond House and the Northern Estate was the best solution for temporary accommodation for the House of Commons. This is because it is able to host the temporary Chamber and all MPs within a single secure site, and its would secure the strongest legacy benefit since almost all other options were reliant on temporary buildings which would need to be removed after use.
- The security requirement that MPs and the chamber be located within a single secure site was further strengthened by the recommendations of the Murphy Perimeter Security Review, which followed the Westminster attacks in March 2017.
3. What other locations in London were considered and why were they discounted?
- Below we summarise the reasons why other potential locations were discounted during the down-selection process.
⚬ Portcullis House was discounted based on a number of security, technical and engineering challenges. It would still require significant additional space to be created elsewhere on the estate as it would fail to meet the space requirements as well as requiring an additional phase of decant.
⚬ Horseguards Parade was ruled out primarily due to its distance from other buildings on the Parliamentary Estate and potential security risks to Members of both Houses who would be moving between sites.
⚬ Westminster Hall was ruled out due to the early 19th century floor not being structurally strong enough to support a chamber, and changes in temperature resulting from associated services would pose a threat to the medieval roof.
⚬ HM Treasury was ruled out for a number of reasons including difficulties obtaining the site, structural limitations, access and servicing constraints.
⚬ The Foreign and Commonwealth Office courtyard was primarily ruled out for security reasons, as well as constrained access, and impact to the Grade 1 listed courtyard.
4. What are the requirements of the temporary House of Commons and what efforts have been made to reduce or optimise the space needed?
- The temporary accommodation requirements were endorsed by the House of Commons Commission in May 2018, following detailed consultation with MPs, staff and officials. This includes:
⚬ A like-for-like Chamber and Division Lobbies with adjustments to improve accessibility.
⚬ Committee rooms with public access.
⚬ A security requirement for all MPs and their staff to be accommodated within the Estate, to be able to walk safely between buildings.
⚬ Office accommodation for almost 200 MPs being relocated from the Palace, with provision for two members of staff per Member on site.
⚬ A visitor and education centre.
- Detailed design and assessment work has been undertaken to ensure that those functions can be provided in an efficient way and that only the essential functions that must be close to the House of Commons Chamber will be provided for within the Northern Estate.
- Reductions have been achieved in many areas including reduction in committee rooms and catering space, based on an analysis of usage, and reduction in ‘back office’ storage and functions, and staff accommodation, with House staff that do not need to be adjacent to Chamber and Committee functions being located off site.
- This work has led to a 33% reduction in the total spaces being provided at the Northern Estate when compared with the equivalent space for those functions currently available within the Palace of Westminster.
- Even with this 33% reduction, there is a spatial requirement for 31,177 square metres (net usable area) to accommodate the House of Commons in decant, including space for 650 MPs and their staff, the Chamber and Committee rooms and associated support staff and functions.
5. What options were considered to provide the necessary accommodation within Parliament’s Northern Estate?
- The approach of focusing the scale of intervention on Richmond House has been thoroughly tested, recognising that this causes substantial harm to a Grade II* listed building.
- The delivery of a temporary House of Commons chamber, its associated facilities and offices for all 650 MPs and their staff within the Northern Estate is a considerable challenge and the options considered were refined into three Masterplan options – the use of temporary buildings; spreading the impact across the Northern Estate through the use of infill buildings including in the Richmond House courtyard; and the redevelopment of Richmond House.
- 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 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.
⚬ Given the security requirements, the cost of this building would be almost the same as a permanent building, and provide no value once decant occurs as it would then be removed.
⚬ This building would also 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.
⚬ These additional temporary structures would also create a poor-quality working environment and have further visual impact to the Whitehall Conservation Area.
⚬ Again, these would need to removed once the decant period is over, meaning a great deal of money would be spent for very limited legacy benefit.
- The option of spreading the impact across the Northern Estate, rather than focussing it on Richmond House, was also assessed but demonstrated to be unsuitable for the following reasons:
⚬ This option would require the temporary Chamber to be located within the courtyard of Richmond House, but would still require significant redevelopment of much of Richmond House in order to accommodate the size of the Chamber, its Division Lobbies and the other uses which need to be provided.
⚬ Significant interventions would then also be needed to almost all other buildings within the Northern Estate to accommodate the additional spaces required.
⚬ This would include a basement and infill development within the courtyard of Norman Shaw North, partial demolition and rebuild of part of Norman Shaw South and 1 Canon Row.
⚬ Substantial redevelopment would also be needed to almost all of the buildings along Parliament Street, with only their frontages retained.
⚬ Such an approach was unlikely to be supportable as it would create harm to a range of historic listed buildings across the Estate and compromised accommodation that wouldn’t meet modern office standards for daylight and accessibility.
6. Why was the approach of focussing the intervention on Richmond House adopted given it is a Grade II* listed building?
- The approach of focusing the scale of intervention on Richmond House has been thoroughly tested, recognising that this causes substantial harm to a listed building. We have not embarked on this lightly.
- Meeting the House of Commons’ requirements to accommodate a temporary Chamber, its associated facilities, public access and offices for all 650 MPs and their staff within a single secure site, is a considerable challenge and every potential option considered in the Northern Estate required significant demolition to parts of Richmond House.
- The proposed designs do retain all the frontages of the building visible to the public, including the Georgian Richmond Terrace and the significant 1980s frontage to Whitehall.
- Behind these spaces it has to be recognised that the current Richmond House is unsuitable for public access and the demands which would be placed upon it for the period that it is the home of the House of Commons.
- By creating a confident, contemporary building in this location which delivers the vast majority of the new spaces required, we are able to protect the existing outward face of the estate and provide a lasting legacy for Parliament. The proposals also conserve and enhance the other historic buildings across the wider Northern Estate, including the Grade I listed Norman Shaw North and several other Grade II* and Grade II buildings.
- We believe it represents the best overall heritage solution for the site and is the right plan to meet the needs of the House of Commons during the restoration and renewal of Parliament. Indeed, this entire project is the first essential step towards securing a great prize – the timely restoration and renewal of arguably the single most important listed building in the country, the Palace of Westminster.
7. Are the proposals sustainable and will they help to achieve Parliament’s goal of being net carbon neutral by 2050?
- Parliament is developing a comprehensive sustainability strategy to enable the whole estate to be net carbon neutral by 2050, and the Northern Estate proposals are fundamental to this.
- The existing buildings on the Northern Estate – including historic Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II listed buildings – are not environmentally sustainable or energy efficient and are in desperate need of investment and modernisation.
- The new energy centre in the basement of Richmond House will provide a low carbon heating and cooling network to service all of the buildings within the Northern Estate site, reducing site-wide CO2 emissions by over 1000 tonnes per year. This represents a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions from the historic buildings on the Northern Estate, with the new buildings, including Richmond House, producing 35% less CO2 emissions than building regulations require.
- While the initial outlay on embodied energy for the proposed Richmond House is higher than a building refurbishment, annual CO2 emissions are drastically reduced over time. We have carried out a life cycle assessment of our proposals which demonstrates that even with the carbon expenditure of redeveloping the Estate, the proposed efficiencies delivered through improved building fabric and building services will ensure that overall the emissions over the 60 year lifespan will be lower than a maintained scenario, within a 20 year period.
- A new energy centre in Richmond House will provide a low and zero carbon heating and cooling network for all of the Northern Estate, including Portcullis House, with the majority delivered through the use of borehole-led heat pumps to serve both heating and cooling.
- Heat emissions will be reduced through the installation (or in some cases refurbishment), of secondary glazing throughout the Northern Estate.
- Upgraded boilers in Portcullis House will reduce gas consumption and improve air quality. There will also be ‘greening’ of the roof of Richmond House and new planting within the Estate.
- A reduction in water usage by using ‘low flow’ taps and the reuse of water in toilets. There is also a reduced demand on the local drainage infrastructure by reinjecting cooling water back into the water table via the boreholes.
- The collection of rainwater in attenuation tanks, which will help mitigate flood risk and reduce impact on local drainage infrastructure, together with new down pipes and upgraded guttering to improve drainage and protect the historic buildings.
- The specific details of the Northern Estate proposals, including carbon assessments, are set out in the planning application documents which are publicly available.
8. In May 2020 the Sponsor Body announced a “strategic review” of the restoration and renewal programme. How will this impact the proposal for Parliament’s Northern Estate?
- Parliament established an independent Sponsor Body to oversee the essential restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, and respects their desire to review the latest evidence to ensure the programme delivers on the needs of both Houses as well as on value for money for the taxpayer. Parliament stand ready to engage with the new Sponsor Body throughout the review.
- NEP is a programme of significant improvements to the wider existing Parliamentary estate and is not solely linked to plans for the redevelopment of Richmond House. The outcome of the review will of course be taken into consideration, but any change to NEP plans would have to be agreed by Commons Member Committees as NEP remains part of the Commons at this stage. In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with Westminster City Council and other authorities.
9. Who is responsible for the Northern Estate Programme and what political oversight is there over the project?
- The Northern Estate Programme falls under the House of Commons. The Director General of the House of Commons is the Senior Responsible Owner of the project. Key governance decisions on the project are referred to the House of Commons Commission, responsible for the administration and services of the House of Commons, which is chaired by the Speaker of the House.
10. How will the proposals for the Northern Estate Programme deliver a lasting legacy for Parliament?
- The legacy benefits of the Northern Estate Programme for Parliament are numerous, and it is not limited to the chamber itself – this element only takes up 11% of the total floorspace of the redeveloped Richmond House. The balance of the workspace in the building would be available in legacy to support a range of Parliamentary functions.
- The programme will leave behind a modern, fit for purpose estate, creating additional space which has been designed for flexibility of future use, as well as fully refurbishing six other major buildings.
- It will have a lasting benefit and allow the Parliamentary Estate to exit some existing buildings as well as leaving to a significant reduction in ongoing running costs. For example, the Parliamentary Estate is leasing space in Victoria Street (with a lease expiry date in 2034) with capacity for up to 1,000 workspaces. The workspace requirement based at Victoria Street, and at other rented properties, exceeds the available space within Richmond House after MPs and staff have moved back into the Palace of Westminster, so there is expected to be scope for consolidation and release of property to reduce costs.
- The temporary chamber itself will enable to continued operation of the House of Commons during the R&R Programme and has been designed for a range of possible uses. For example, the space could be easily converted for use as:
⚬ A public debating chamber for schools and other audiences.
⚬ Conference facilities, including those for international delegations.
⚬ A venue for debates and interactive/educational events.
⚬ An exhibition space for parliamentary art and archives.
⚬ Additional workspace for staff.
- Alternatively, it could remain as a temporary chamber in the event of an incident or emergency.
- The precise future legacy use will be determined through the design process for the Palace of Westminster R&R Programme, which will explore the best permanent locations for the full range of parliamentary and public access and engagement functions.
- The Northern Estate programme also represents one of the UK’s most important construction projects, with over 1,000 on-site construction jobs at its peak and many more across the UK. This will be a huge investment in the UK economy and offer an enormous opportunity for the country, a chance to celebrate British ingenuity and optimism.
- Suppliers, including small and medium sized enterprises across the country, will be engaged in supply chains and will benefit significantly from the main contractor spend across the life of the project and in the future. There is also a commitment to use social enterprises, and the programme is expected to support thousands of jobs and training opportunities in construction, engineering, design, and IT, as well as attracting those with specialist heritage skills.
To read details of the proposals for the Northern Estate
To read more details of the historic decision making process
To read more about the many benefits the proposals will bring to Parliament and the UK