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‘Unacceptable cloak of secrecy’ on Capitol restoration, MPs say | Political News

The chairman of the Public Accounts Commission told Sky News that he could cry for “five years” lost by the decision to abolish an institution set up to deliver long-term reforms in parliament. .

MP Meg Hillier says there is an “unacceptable shroud of secrecy” over the decision to return to the drawing board after estimated costs rose from £7bn to £22bn.

But it costs £2.5m a week in upkeep if the work isn’t done. The former head of the house, Mrs Andrea Reidsom, says she fears Westminster Palace will become England’s Notre Dame.

After decades of debate, lawmakers are still largely divided over the cost of the job and whether they should move elsewhere. parliamentif so, where is their temporary home.

When Westminster Palace burned down in 1834, the flames were so high that they could be seen from 20 miles away.

The Palace of Westminster on fire 1834, unknown oil painting © UK Parliament, WOA 1978
The Palace of Westminster caught fire in 1834.Photo: British Parliament

Politicians of the time had been debating the need to renovate the old parliament for years.

Nearly 200 years later, many fear that without major restoration work, a similar disaster could befall their successors.

Detail of the Houses of Parliament

However, after decades of debate, the body established by Congress in 2018 to manage large-scale renovation projects has been scrapped.

Dame Meg Hillier, chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, said, “The five years we lost may bring tears to our eyes.” was.

“I feel like I’m back to square one. There are currently no sponsoring bodies and no plans to carry out the work. There is still debate as to whether or not we should remain in the building while the work is completed.

“This is not about us members of parliament. This is about buildings that belong to the state. Yes, it costs a lot of money, but it cannot be avoided.”

A recent report from the commission concluded that “repeated attempts to reexamine the program’s foundations have pushed the start date back for years.”

“We don’t want another catastrophic incident to finally revitalize action,” it reads.

Congressman Meg Hillier

What kind of work is actually being done?

Ongoing repair work is always going on to strengthen the roof and Victorian masonry, most recently restoring the ceiling of St Stephen’s Hall.Elizabeth Tower renovation and big ben.

But the real challenge is the jumble of gas and dripping water pipes along the morass of electrical wiring, phone cables and even working steam engines that are part of the Victorian sewage system. It is located in a vast, maze-like basement.

Basement of the Houses of Parliament

Dr Alexandra Meekin, Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Leeds, is an expert in the restoration programme. She says the mess in the basement is a disaster waiting to happen.

“Because the gas and steam lines run side by side, even a small leak is a huge fire hazard. I’m here.

“The risks are real. It’s not just cosmetic jobs. Not only lawmakers and peers are at risk, but also the thousands of catering and cleaning staff who work there. Millions, including school children.” Not to mention the thousands of visitors.”

The palace is also riddled with asbestos and had a leak last year during construction that could have exposed up to 117 contractors and staff.

“When you try to do a big job on a palace, it’s going to be hard to get around,” says Dr. Meakin. “Asbestos is spread throughout the building.”

Ceiling of St. Stephen's Hall

Concerns about cost, timescales and governance

In January 2018, Congress voted to proceed with a plan to vacate the building, known as ‘The Decant’, to carry out a complete renovation and hire an independent sponsoring body (approximately 55 staff and experts from parliament). team) was established. To lead and manage projects in line with the London Olympics.

Last January, they released preliminary cost and schedule estimates. It estimates that the significant work alone will cost between £7bn and £13bn and will take 19 to 28 years.

He warned that the project could last 76 years and cost as much as £22 billion if MPs and colleagues insist on the status quo.

For some, this was too much to accept.

Restoration work is underway on the Houses of Parliament

In March, a committee of the House of Representatives and the House of Lords – made up of speakers, clerks and other senior parliamentarians – said it had concerns about the project’s costs, timescales and governance.

They recommended getting rid of sponsoring bodies altogether and bringing large projects in-house.

Representatives and senators passed it over the summer, and the decision was made just before Christmas.

Conservative MP Sir Edward Lee is skeptical of what he describes as “ridiculous” estimates made by sponsoring bodies.

“There are methods that mean you don’t have to move everyone at a huge cost,” he argues.

“We can’t have very expensive gold plating plans. The public will question what Parliament is spending £20bn on, especially when the economy is in tatters.”

Sir Edward Lee

“We need to keep it going”

Last month, the shadow leader of the House of Representatives, Tangam Debonair, accused some members of Congress of “undermining” the work of sponsoring bodies and “bashing with experts.”

Sir Edward denies this, stating that it is right for the MPs and Lords to regain control of the project.

“We just need to keep it going and make it safe,” he says.

In contrast, Mrs. Meg Hillier describes the Commission’s intervention as “dirty.”

“If they apply this to other laws, there will be an uproar,” she says. “I’m incredibly worried.

“We’ve seen big problems in the past, almost triple the cost during the Elizabeth Tower renovation, and the memory of what happened at Portcullis House. [which ended up substantially over budget and schedule when built to house MPs’ offices in the 1990s] It still haunts people here. ”

Houses of Parliament

Where will your staff go?

Another problem is the lack of consensus on where the residents of the Palace of Westminster will move, even if agreement is reached on the need for them to move.

Long-standing plans had been made to move the lords to the nearby Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, but then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson later asked the program to consider the option of moving to York instead.

In May 2022, Level Up Secretary Michael Gove also intervened, see them move to stoke.

As for the MP, the preliminary phase of the project involved £70 million in preparing plans to rebuild Richmond House, an old Ministry of Health building in Westminster.

However, the idea was dropped because it was too expensive. And while some hope that the remote working technology used during COVID-19 will help provide solutions, reaching consensus on this aspect of the program alone is clearly a matter of disagreement. is full of

Houses of Parliament

“One of the most famous buildings in the world”

As a former leader of the House of Representatives, Dame Andrea Leadsom MP led the 2018 bill through Congress.

She said the decision to undo much of it “seems like a way to drive the situation into the long grass – it’s disastrous.

“We understand the bill is huge and we sympathize with the need to get taxpayers’ money back, but this is one of the most famous buildings in the world.

“There have been about 50 fire incidents in the last 10 years, and even one of them could lead to the destruction of an absolute Notre-Dame-style palace.

“Huge amounts of money have already been spent just to patch and remediate…we always want to crack and you have to do that.”

Andrea Leadsom

When will the next poll take place?

Lawmakers are now expected to vote on the new strategy by the end of next year.

Congress said in a statement: , to support the ongoing business of Congress.

“This includes a large and complex restoration program to preserve the Palace of Westminster for future generations.

“This year, more than 2,000 areas of the palace were surveyed to better understand the condition of the building. informs you of a wide range of options for

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