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Palace of Westminster: Restoration and Renewal

Volume 794: debated on Monday 3 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government which Government-owned properties the Office of Government Property has discussed with Parliament as possible relocation sites as part of the Restoration and Renewal programme.

My Lords, as part of the Joint Committee work that helped to prepare for the restoration and renewal programme, the government property unit discussed potential temporary relocation sites with the R&R programme team—namely Richmond House and the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre. The Government Property Agency has continued to provide advice on those relocation sites, and of course the final decision will be a matter for Parliament.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, and I thank my noble friend for his Answer. But can he give noble Lords an assurance that the grade 2* listed Richmond House, completed as recently as 1998, which is a major work by the architect William Whitfield, will not be substantially or partly demolished to make way for a temporary House of Commons Chamber; and, as importantly, that a full feasibility study of the alternative options and locations for this temporary Chamber will be carried out?

My Lords, ownership and responsibility for Richmond House has now been transferred to the other place, where it forms part of its northern estate strategy. The other place is now looking at how Richmond House might be reconfigured to meet its needs. Any changes will require planning permission and listed building consent, and the other place is working very closely with Historic England in view of the importance of the building, which my noble friend has rightly pointed out.

Does the Minister recall that when Richmond House was built 30 years ago, it was greatly admired; and as the noble Baroness has just said, it is only three years ago that it was listed grade 2*? The Minister talked delicately about reconfiguring, but would it not be an awful waste effectively to destroy the greater part of it to accommodate a temporary decant? Will he give the House an assurance that a full feasibility study of all other options will be carried out, including the suggestion that a temporary House of Commons Chamber be erected in the atrium of Portcullis House put forward by its architect, Sir Michael Hopkins?

That suggestion by Sir Michael Hopkins was looked at by the Joint Committee and discounted for the reasons it has set out. As I said in response to my noble friend, the responsibility for Richmond House now rests with the other place because it is the legal owner. It will take on board the heritage issues which have just been mentioned. The building was, of course, substantially reconfigured in the 1980s before it became the headquarters for the Department of Health.

My Lords, do the Government have a plan for the development of Whitehall? In the past 25 years, three government blocks in and around Whitehall have been transferred to private ownership and converted into hotels. I wonder if they intend to move that further along Whitehall and take more departments out towards Marsham Street and Horseferry Road, or whether they think that the historic context of Whitehall departments grouped together is something that we ought to attach importance to at a point when the Department of Health has just had to move further away.

The decision to transfer Admiralty Arch on a 99-year lease was one taken by the coalition Government. I think it was the right thing to do because that building was no longer required by the Government. It was costing nearly £1 million a year to maintain, and it needed substantial renovation. It has now been tastefully renovated in the private sector according to the original designs by Sir Aston Webb. Moreover, the Government still retain the freehold. That was a sensible decision which was taken by the coalition Government. More broadly, the number of civil servants is reducing. There are still 78,000 civil servants in London but many thousands will be relocated outside London as part of our industrial strategy. Those who remain will require some 20 buildings instead of the 65 that we have at the moment. But the core Whitehall estate will be sensitively managed with advice from the Government Historic Estates Unit. And as the noble Lord said, some government departments are already doubling up. The Treasury, DCMS and HMRC are co-located, as are the Home Office and MHCLG.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that as long as the security level remains high, our choice of alternative accommodation is drastically curtailed unless one is going to consider further steps to enlarge the security circle around the parliamentary and other historic buildings in Parliament Square?

My noble friend is absolutely right. One of the reasons why Richmond House was selected was the direct access to the rest of the Parliamentary Estate from that building, for security reasons.

My Lords, we all agree that it is important that we keep the costs down and ensure value for money during the restoration and renewal project. I turn to two specific areas, not about the Chambers but about the office location for Peers following decant. First, is it correct that available offices in government departments in Whitehall which were identified by the Joint Committee as possible office space have now been blocked and ruled out by the Government because they are being used by the additional staff who have had to be brought in for Brexit, thus forcing more expensive options to be considered for office space for Peers? Secondly, can he quantify the extra costs incurred by delay not only in terms of the additional maintenance and prevention work that is needed but also the increased costs of the work involved?

On value for money, the Government have published a draft Bill. Under Clause 2(4), the sponsor body must ensure that the works represent good value for money. I was not aware of what the noble Baroness has just said about the government departments blocking access to buildings but I will make inquiries. If the noble Baroness is referring to the overall cost of the project, which is now estimated at some £3.52 billion, the overall management of the project is a matter for Parliament. It is not a matter for the Government. Responsibility will rest with the sponsor body, which is now being set up, and the delivery body. But, ultimately, it is not a matter for the Government; it is a matter for Parliament as to how this matter is progressed.