A Westminster bubble filled with sunlight, not acrid air


On Wednesday the Daily Mail produced imagined renderings (below) of what the paper wittily described as “The Westminster Bubble.” The same day my news story on the same topic was aired by Property Week. On Thursday an official spokesperson told The Times that the plans were turned down in 2017. On Friday my views (below) on the virtues of a temporary parliament on Horse Guards Parade appeared. Staying in the EU was turned down in 2016.  The mood of the country has changed…the plans have changed. Will the bubble now be built?  Bit like asking will we, or won’t we, remain in the EU…no idea.



Property Week column for 12th April 2019.

Parliament’s restorative dome

Peter Bill

Given the mood of the country, pitchforking parliamentarians into a shed in Tamworth and bulldozing their decaying talking shop would win more votes than spending £4 billion restoring the Palace of Westminster. Insurers will view the shower (water, not people) which caused the suspension of the Brexit debate on 4th April as an Act of God. Uri Geller claims to have cracked the rusty pipe as an Act of Uri. Thank you, Uri.

Ex-BPF boss Liz Peace – now chair of the Shadow Sponsor Board set up to govern the labyrinthine project – won’t care about the cause, but will see its effect as an undisguised blessing. Anything to increase pressure on the trickle-slow programme revealed last month to be facing a 2-year delay until 2028, at a cost of £350m, before Parliamentarians are turfed into temporary accommodation and work can at last begin.

We will come to encouraging news. First, the dreary background. It took Parliament from 2012 to 2016 to figure out the obvious: If you strip down and rebuild a Victorian pile, its more economical to move out the tenants. As a precaution the £4bn budget was stuffed to the gills with contingencies. Not good enough for distracted politicians, with only Brexit on their minds.

A paragraph published here in December bears repeating. “Commons leader Andrea Leadsom delayed a vote on the plan to rebuild the Palace of Westminster until mid-2019. Leadsom wants the £3.87bn budget properly ‘bottomed out.’ Building work makes up just £810m of the total. The other £3 billion? £550m for consultant’s fees; £740m for inflation; £800m for ‘risk’; £590m of fairy money – VAT paid by one organ of the state to another. Finally, £380m for decant costs – the only number that looks low.”

The decant budget looks even lower now. Last month a Parliamentary oversight committee issued a scathing report warning of the 2-year delay and £350m of additional decant costs – unless a row over where the temporary Commons chamber goes is settled. Read and despair: Turf wars between the Ministries of Defence and Health over plans to gut Grade 11 listed Richmond House. The former won’t let the latter use a car park as a builder’s yard. Preservationists are crying foul from the side-lines.

This part of the project is, incredibly, not even under the control of Shadow Sponsor Board. The over-sight committee recommends a ‘swift transfer” of responsibilities to Peace. Which is nice. Because Sir John Ritblat and Lord Foster have shown her a far better plan. One far more in keeping with the mood of the country. Those on all sides of the Brexit debates are sickened at the sight of politicians shouting points of order in windowless Victorian chambers. Are they of this world, or the last?

Sir John Ritblat and Lord Foster’s “Pop-Up Parliament’ as it was dubbed, was thought to have been consigned to the bin of too-radical ideas in 2017. But no. Newly refined ideas to build a temporary parliament on Horse Guards Parade were presented to Peace’s group late last month. They have been revised to consider security fears. The chambers can hold all MPs’ and Peers in two-floors of offices built under twin domes of bomb-proof glass: All prefabricated, built and removed for £175m.

Last week architect Aecom caught the public mood, publishing a jokey idea to install a giant conservatory in the Palace. Architect Sir Michael Hopkins wants the Commons to shift under the glass entrance hall of his Portcullis building. The Lords are currently doomed to shuffled across Parliament Square into the QE11 centre.  There is a new mood in the country, one that is demanding Parliament must modernise. What better way to encapsulate that mood than with Commons and Lords chambers designed to let sunlight in and foetid air out?








Author: Peter Bill

Author and commentator on UK housing and commercial real estate. Co-author of Broken Homes: Britain's Housing Crisis: Faults, Factiods and Fixes (2020) & Planet Property (2015) detailing the workings of the real estate sector. Former editor of Building magazine and Estates Gazette and columnist on the London Evening Standard. Columnist for Property Week.

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