We are hopeful that the destructive and extravagant plans to build a temporary House of Commons chamber and offices in William Whitfield’s Grade II* Richmond House while the Palace of Westminster undergoes a multi-billion refurbishment may at last be abandoned.
Damian Hinds, a Conservative MP and parliamentary spokesperson for the Sponsor Board of Parliament’s Restoration and Renewal programme, hinted at this in a debate in the House of Commons on 20 May, saying: “I can honestly say that I have not met a single person, either in this House or on the restoration and renewal programme, who now believes that it is desirable to make the full demolition of Richmond House…..We have to cut our cloth….we have to work within what we have, and we need to work out what compromises we need in order to do that.”
MP Damian Hinds’ intervention came during a speech by Sir Edward Leigh MP, who has led Parliamentary opposition to “Project Goldplate” arguing that cheaper, faster and less destructive alternatives are available, including one put forward by SAVE Britain’s Heritage, prepared by Mark Hines Architects.
Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg highlighted how the pandemic had shown “that we are able to function for a time without every facility and, indeed, without a full Chamber…..but I recognise that during the pandemic we have seen that some of the ancillary services the Joint Committee considered essential to be physically present next to the Chamber have turned out not to be so.”
Some other MPs were in agreement that much had been learned from the hybrid Parliament and that these lessons could be applied to restoration and renewal. MP Simon Baynes said: “We know that hybrid proceedings have been a poor second best, but surely they are a viable temporary option to be used if it means saving hundreds of millions or even billions of pounds in construction costs and minimising the need for a full and lengthy decant.” MP Dehenna Davison commented: “I cannot stress how important it is that the cost of the work is reduced as much as feasibly possible, with no gold-plating in sight, while ensuring that democracy can still be done and we can continue to change lives for the better. I know that the past year has been an economic whirlwind for my constituents right across Bishop Auckland, and I have heard far too many stories of lost incomes, despite the Government’s unprecedented support schemes. On that note, I have severe reservations about voting in support of giving a blank cheque of up to £6 billion or more against the backdrop of such intense economic hardship, with millions upon millions spent on a management report alone, before a single brick or cable has even been restored. It is completely unacceptable.”
However, other members had different views and we will need to remain alert. C20 Society Head of Casework Clare Price, who has led the campaign group’s fierce opposition to the proposals, said: “While we are hopeful of good news, we are not out of the woods yet and would renew our call to the House to abandon this shameful waste of public money and formally set aside the plans to demolish William Whitfield’s masterpiece, Richmond House. Viable alternative schemes have been put forward and these should be explored more fully.”
It is understood that a final decision on whether to proceed with the planning application submitted to Westminster Council by architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris will only be known when detailed plans are unveiled before the House of Commons in 2023.
Read our past press release on this campaign: