PRESS RELEASE: Giant Setback To Official Plans For Temporary MPs Chamber

20 February 2020

SAVE urges Secretary of State to call-in proposals for public inquiry

Parliament’s highly controversial plans for a temporary House of Commons Chamber have received a colossal set back as Historic England has determined that the proposed demolition of Richmond House constitutes substantial harm to a grade II* listed building.
Where a grade II* listed building is involved, demolition is only allowed in the most exceptional circumstances.  The principle test involved is whether there are alternative solutions available which will avoid the harm.
The House of Commons Commission claims that it examined alternative sites but decided they were unsatisfactory. Historic England, in its official response to the planning application, has concluded that the information and reasoning supplied on this matter are inadequate.  Without further convincing justification Historic England has told Westminster City Council planners, “we are unable to authorise or direct as to the granting of listed building consent, which is required in order for your Authority to grant consent”.  Westminster cannot grant listed building consent without direction or authorisation from Historic England. 
Their letter, dated 31st January goes on to state: "The proposal for Richmond House is still the most harmful single proposal (in terms of listed fabric) out of the range of possible changes to achieve a decant establishment. The evidence for this choice of option is not fully made and further information should be sought". See Historic England's official consultation letter here and accompanying report here.
It is usual, when this situation arises for the Secretary of State to call in the case for a public inquiry.
Historic England, in reviewing the planning application, has looked only at previous outline alternatives proposed by Parliament.  In addition, there are two further alternatives.  The first drawn up for SAVE Britain’s Heritage by Mark Hines architects, shows how a temporary Commons Chamber can be inserted in the main courtyard of Richmond House at a cost of £50m – far less that Parliament’s own proposal which has been costed at between £800m and £1.6 billion.
The second, drawn up by Foster & Partners for Sir John Ritblat, provides temporary accommodation for both the Commons and the Lords on Horseguards Parade.  This is costed at between £125 and 175m. 

Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain's Heritage says: “Historic England’s conclusion that Parliament’s proposals cause substantial harm are a game changer.  It is extraordinary that this vast planning application running to hundreds of thousands of words is deemed inadequate on the main issue - the demolition of a highly prized listed building - which it certainly is.”
Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain's Heritage says: "The case for trashing Richmond House for a temporary MPs chamber has simply not been made. We agree 100 per cent with Historic England that the proposals do not meet national policy designed to protect our historic buildings. We urge the Secretary of State to call in these proposals for public inquiry.”

Under the plans drawn up by Parliament’s Restoration and Renewal committee Richmond House, is set to be entirely demolished apart from its Whitehall frontage to make way for a new temporary Chamber for MPs while the Palace of Westminster is refurbished. It is part of a publicly funded rebuilding programme of the ‘Northern Estate.’ 

The campaign to save Richmond House has been supported by noted architects Piers Gough, Andrew Arrol, Jonathan Louth and 11 other Cathedral architects of the Cathedral Architects Association, national heritage organisations including the Twentieth Century Society, Ancient Monuments Society, and architectural historians Andrew Saint and Roland Jeffrey. Almost 2000 people have signed an online petition against the demolition, and the proposals have been covered in The TimesThe Sunday TimesRIBA JournalThe GuardianCountry Life and Private Eye, as well as Architects Journal and Building Design.

The plans have been submitted to Westminster City Council - see here to view them (application refs: 19/08220/FULL & 19/08221/LBC). A decision is due on planning permission later this year.