Why does the Palace need a major Restoration and Renewal Programme?

The state of the building

The Palace is home to one of the busiest parliamentary institutions in the world and as such needs to provide a fully functioning and safe environment for the thousands of people who work here and visit every day.

Finding a solution

In 2012, the House of Commons and House of Lords commissioned a pre-feasibility study on the condition of the Palace. The study indicated that unless significant restoration work is undertaken, major irreversible damage may be done to the building.

After the 2012 study, both Houses agreed to commission an independent options appraisal (IOA). This would investigate the costs and a range of options for the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. The IOA was produced by an independent team of external experts led by Deloitte Real Estate and published in June 2015.

In July 2015, the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster was established to consider the IOA and related evidence. It was asked to make recommendations on a preferred way forward for the refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster. The Committee published its recommendations on 8 September 2016.

The Committee concluded that there was ‘a clear and pressing need to tackle the backlog of work to the Palace in a comprehensive and strategic manner’.

It reported that the longer the essential work is left, the greater the risk that the building will suffer a sudden, catastrophic failure. The risk also increases of small, incremental failures such as fire, flood or power failure, making the building uninhabitable. This would bring a sudden stop to the work of Parliament.

In early 2018, following debates in both Houses, Parliament agreed on the ‘best and most cost effective way’ to carry out the restoration. This was to do it in one single phase and to temporarily move out of the building.

What are the benefits of the Restoration and Renewal Programme?

The Programme is designed to protect the Palace and its historic legacy for future generations. At the same time it sets out to ensure value for money for the taxpayer. A further anticipated long-term benefit is a more open, accessible Parliament for all. This will include significant improvements to disabled access.

The costs of a planned, large-scale restoration programme will be significant but the benefits could include:

  • securing the future of the Palace as the home of UK Parliament and preserving its UNESCO World Heritage Site status
  • all the services needed by a modern, accessible, accountable Parliament
  • better, safer access for those who work in and visit the building
  • improved disabled access, fire safety and removing risks caused by asbestos
  • increased energy efficiency, with lower running costs and a significantly reduced carbon footprint
  • reducing the current requirement for high cost emergency repairs
  • reducing risk of major disruption to the work of Parliament caused by service failure. At the moment only essential maintenance and repairs are being carried out in order to keep the building functioning
  • employment and training opportunities such as apprenticeships for construction works and those with specialist conservation skills.

What will the Restoration and Renewal Programme involve?

Major elements of the proposed Restoration and Renewal Programme are likely to include:

  • replacing antiquated heating, ventilation, electrical, water and drainage systems
  • installation of more advanced fire safety systems to minimise the risk of fire damage to the building and make it safer for users
  • removal of significant amounts of asbestos which has limited our conservation and renovation work in the past
  • significantly improving disabled access in the Palace
  • improving health and safety standards
  • repair and enhancement of the approximately 4,000 bronze and other windows in the Palace
  • extensive external and internal conservation and renewal of stonework
  • repairs and conservation work to the historic interiors of international significance
  • tackling the Palace’s internal plumbing requirements and pipework and guttering externally
  • replacing the sewage ejector system, which was installed in 1888 and is still in use today
  • installing information and communications technology necessary for a 21st century Parliament.

How big is the project?

Because of the size and layout of the Palace, it is thought to be the biggest and most complex renovation programme of any single building this country has known. In terms of area, the Palace has approximately the same floor area as the HSBC tower in Canary Wharf.

What has happened since the debates in early 2018?

In early 2018, members of both Houses backed a temporary move out of the Palace. They agreed to temporarily vacate the building to allow the increasingly urgent work on the Palace of Westminster to be carried out in one single phase. Members also agreed that the Palace of Westminster would remain the long-term home of Parliament.

Governance structure

The decision by both Houses of Parliament in early 2018 meant that work could begin on setting up the governance bodies in charge of the works. This will be in the form of a Sponsor Board and Delivery Authority, like those used for the London 2012 Olympics.

After the debates, the Programme started to recruit the external board members of the shadow Sponsor Board, through fair and open competition.

Then in July 2018, the appointments of the Chair of the shadow Sponsor Board, the other external members and the parliamentarians (nominated through parties) were made by both Commissions. See here for more information.

Legislation is required for the Sponsor Board to be established as a stand-alone organisation, which is the reason it has been set up in shadow form for the time being. The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill was introduced into Parliament in spring 2019.