The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 received Royal Assent in October 2019.

The Act creates the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body, which will have responsibility for the restoration of the Palace of Westminster.

The Sponsor Body will propose an Outline Business Case (OBC) for Restoration and Renewal, to be voted on and agreed by both Houses of Parliament. These votes are expected during 2021.

Background to Restoration and Renewal (R&R)

The R&R Programme was established in 2013 by both Houses of Parliament. The programme was ultimately overseen by the Commissions of the two Houses.

A Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Programme Independent Options Appraisal was made public in June 2015.

The September 2016 report of the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster concluded that:

“there is a clear and pressing need to tackle the work required to the Palace of Westminster and to do so in a comprehensive and strategic manner to prevent catastrophic failure in the next decade. We have also concluded that, in principle, a full decant of the Palace of Westminster presents the best option under which to deliver this work”.

In January 2018, the House of Commons debated the Joint Committee’s report. It agreed the work was pressing, a full decant was the best delivery option, the work should be undertaken by a statutory Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority, and that immediate steps should be taken to establish them in shadow form. A further requirement was that both Houses return to their respective Chambers as soon as possible after the decant.

The House of Lords agreed a motion in the same terms in February 2018.

Draft legislation was published in October 2018, followed by pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint committee, and the Government response. Legislation followed, and received Royal Assent in October 2019.

Preparations for R&R

At present a shadow Sponsor Body is operating, comprising a shadow Sponsor Board and an Executive Team. It will become substantive in April 2020.

The Sponsor Body has to create the Delivery Authority as a company limited by guarantee. The Delivery Authority will carry out the Parliamentary building works to the scope, budget and timescale set by the Sponsor Board.

Until the Delivery Authority is established, planning and design for the delivery of the programme will be undertaken within Parliament.

What about preparations for the decant?

The House of Commons Commission is currently ultimately responsible for the Northern Estate Programme (NEP), which is not part of the Palace restoration works.

The NEP will provide accommodation, including a debating chamber, for the House of Commons whilst the Palace is empty.

In May 2019, the House of Commons Commission agreed the scope, funding and schedule envelope relating to the outline business case for the NEP. It is described as the “essential first step” to facilitate the R&R Programme. The Commission noted that the total estimated cost of the NEP “is currently £1.3-1.6bn”.

The House of Commons submitted a suite of seven planning applications and listed building consents for the NEP to Westminster City Council in autumn 2019.

Scope of the work

The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 defined “the Parliamentary building works”, which include “Palace restoration works” – the R&R Programme (see box). The scope of the definition is wider than the Palace restoration works. This is to allow the Commissions of the two Houses of Parliament, with the agreement of the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority, to designate other works relating to the Parliamentary Estate to be undertaken by the programme.

The shadow Sponsor Body has decided that the NEP should be brought under the scope of the Sponsor Body and delivered jointly by the Delivery Authority after it becomes substantive in April 2020.

The House of Commons Commission endorsed the approach to integrating R&R and the NEP at a meeting in October 2019.

The OBC will set out the planned Palace restoration works.

Costs of R&R

The Sponsor Body has to develop detailed costings for the project, for parliamentary approval. No costings of the project have been published since the Independent Options Appraisal in 2014. This estimated the costs of two variations of full decant:

  • … with enhanced amenities and functions over and above meeting legislation and building policy – £3.52bn
  • … with significantly enhanced amenities and functions over and above meeting legislation and building policy – £3.87bn

The Independent Options Appraisal provided estimates of the inflationary impact on capital expenditure of a delay to the construction start date. Based on the scenario of full decant, with some defined improvements to the Palace, the range of predicted inflationary impacts was £78m to £167m per annum. (This assumed the start date of Q2 2020 delayed to Q2 2025.)

The Sponsor Body will prepare annual Estimates, which have to be approved by the House of Commons. The Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, established by the Act, is responsible for laying Estimates before the House of Commons. Before doing so, it has to review them and if the anticipated final cost exceeds the amount of funds allocated for the works, it can reject the Estimate and require the Sponsor Body to prepare a new one.

Further reading

Insights for the new Parliament

This article is part of our series of Insights for the new Parliament. This series covers a range of topics that will take centre stage in UK and international politics in the new Parliament.

Image: © UK Parliament / Mark Duffy