Westminster restoration stalling because MPs ‘don't want to move their offices out of historic building’

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
MPs are reportedly not keen on having their offices in a temporary location (Getty)

Restoration on Westminster is being held up because MPs want to keep their offices inside a historic building, according to an insider.

Chris White, a former Chairman of a Conservative Constituency Association, wrote in The Times that members of the House of Commons do not want to shift their things to a temporary location while work is undertaken.

Highlighting the Notre Dame Cathedral fire as a warning of potential dangers during restoration, Mr White said that Parliament “is on the verge of a catastrophic systems failure”, while a joint committee report warned of a “catastrophic event, such as a major fire… in the next decade”.

He added: “MPs raised many concerns, from cost, to the fact that the building itself has great history and resonance.

“Privately some members also don’t want to spend their time as an MP in a temporary building that is not the Commons.”

The "restoration and renewal" programme for Westminster is not expected to start in earnest until the mid-2020s (Getty)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the Palace of Westminster is at risk of a "huge" fire, following Tuesday’s Notre Dame blaze.

Politicians have acknowledged that action is needed to safeguard the Houses of Parliament but have spent years wrangling over the best way to proceed and baulked at the billions of pounds required to restore the building.

Labour leader Mr Corbyn said the state of the Palace of Westminster was "very poor”.

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The "restoration and renewal" programme is not expected to start in earnest until the mid-2020s after MPs and peers voted in early 2018 to leave the historic building to allow the work to be carried out.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who sat on the joint committee of parliamentarians from both Houses which examined the issue, said: "We have taken far too long already putting our fire safety measures in place.

"Parts of the Palace are as old as Notre Dame and we must make sure that every fire precaution is taken as the major work goes ahead. God knows we've had enough warnings.”

Notre Dame was undergoing restoration went it erupted into flames (Getty)

The 2016 joint committee report noted "a substantial and growing risk of either a single, catastrophic event, such as a major fire, or a succession of incremental failures in essential systems which would lead to Parliament no longer being able to occupy the Palace”.

The Palace of Westminster was constructed in the mid-1800s as a state-of-the-art purpose-built home for Parliament after a fire in 1834 destroyed large parts of the old building, although the medieval Westminster Hall survived.

Although architect Charles Barry put fire safety at the centre of his designs for the new palace by using cast iron and stone, the opulent interiors he created with Augustus Welby Pugin used vast quantities of combustible materials.

Parts of the Palace of Westminster are as old as Notre Dame (Getty)

This and the huge network of ventilation shafts and floor voids they created to aid ventilation had the unintended effect of creating ideal conditions for fire and smoke to spread throughout the building.

Fire safety systems are in place throughout the Palace but they are antiquated and safety officers are required to patrol the building around the clock to spot signs of a blaze.

A parliamentary spokesman said: "Fire safety is a key priority for Parliament and protections are constantly reviewed and updated including at our active construction sites, and in planning for the future restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster.

"Last year we completed a major programme of works to enhance fire life safety measures in the Palace, and while this work continues we stand ready to learn any lessons that emerge from the fire at Notre Dame to ensure we do everything possible to protect our people and buildings on the parliamentary estate."