PRESS RELEASE: Senior MP states ‘no need to demolish Richmond House’

25th March 2020 

SAVE Britain’s Heritage plans highlighted as cost effective alternative as new oversight body appointed.

In a House of Commons debate last night, MPs welcomed the appointment of new members to the Sponsor Board of Parliament's Restoration and Renewal programme, the body that will oversee the works to refurbish the Palace of Westminster, but concerns over the cost to the public purse were flagged several times.

Under plans currently proposed by architects AHMM, grade II* listed Richmond House on Whitehall would be demolished and re-built as a temporary chamber for MPs while the nearby Palace of Westminster is refurbished. The highly controversial plans are estimated to cost the public purse at least £800m, and the chamber would only be used for 7-10 years before MPs moved back.

Former chair of the public accounts committee Sir Edward Leigh MP said: “Even before the public health crisis that we are facing, there were difficult decisions to be made about public spending, increases in taxation and trying to divert resources from London to the north of England in particular. Even before this crisis, which will probably necessitate the largest expansion of the state since the second world war, I think that people would have started to look askance at our spending billions of pounds on ourselves when there might well be a cheaper alternative.”

Leigh added: “When the sponsor body has its first meeting, it might consider that this is the moment to review the whole project and look at whether we can do it significantly more cheaply than the present option.”

Instead of demolishing Richmond House, the SAVE alternative plan, drawn up in collaboration with Mark Hines architects, shows how the temporary MPs chamber can be accommodated within the existing building, and crucially, at a fraction of the cost.

Referring to the SAVE alternative plans, Sir Edward Leigh MP said: "I have been working with SAVE, the architectural heritage body. We have come up with well-costed proposals, designed by architects, to create much more cheaply, if it was deemed necessary to have one, a temporary Chamber in the courtyard of Richmond House that was exactly the same size—[Interruption.] It would be exactly the same size as this Chamber. There is absolutely no need to demolish Richmond House, which is an award-winning listed building.”

Leader of the House Jacob Reese Mogg MP echoed the concerns about costs stating: “The restoration and renewal of this historic Palace will be a significant task, and ensuring that these works represent value for money for the taxpayer, which is perhaps the key thing, will remain absolutely at the forefront of their minds. One of the main aims of this project will be to keep costs down, and Her Majesty’s Government are willing to work collaboratively with the sponsor body in this important mission.”

Leigh also raised the prospect of moving the House of Lords to the nearby Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, without the need for the wholescale and expensive renovation of the 1960s building currently proposed.

Leigh said: “It would be possible to place the Lords quite cheaply and simply in that building at a relatively small cost. There is already a large conference chamber there, which holds up to 700 people—big enough even for the House of Lords. Their lordships may have to forgo their planned rooftop terrace dining room, which would cost £200 million, but, given the present crisis facing the nation, I am sure that they will be prepared to do that." He added that if this were to happen, the Commons could move to the Lords, without the need to build a temporary chamber at all.  

To sum up, there are many cheaper alternatives that must and should be explored by the sponsor body, as our primary concern is to save public money, carry out these works as expeditiously as possible and not waste time, perhaps until 2027, waiting for a replica Chamber to be built,” he added. 

The Sponsor Board was established in shadow form in July 2018, and it will own the budget, business case, and scope of the restoration programme. The Sponsor Board will act as the single client accountable to Parliament and will be responsible for overseeing the work of the Delivery Authority. 

See here the full Hansard transcript of the debate. 

See here the SAVE alternative proposals for the MPs temporary chamber.

See here the proposals for the demolition of Richmond House and a new temporary chamber, currently being considered for planning permission by Westminster City Council.




Note to editors:

1. For more information contact Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain's Heritage on 07388 181 181.

2. Our most recent Press Release on Richmond House can be found here.

3. SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.