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What next for Parliament’s revamp?

After an incredibly long-winded affair, a firm has been picked to manage the multi-billion-pound restoration of the Palace of Westminster, the historic home of parliament.

Although a Mace / Aecom JV was tipped as the frontrunner for the contract early on, US engineering giant CH2M is now understood to have scooped the programme, project and cost management services contract, which is currently in standstill period.

Construction News earlier this year witnessed the full extent of deterioration at the building, which was largely rebuilt back in the mid-19th century after a major fire.

The joint committee established to oversee the latest restoration project has warned of a “substantial and growing risk of either a single, catastrophic event, such as a major fire, or a succession of incremental failures in essential systems which would lead to parliament no longer being able to occupy the palace”.

So does CH2M’s appointment finally mark the start of this urgently needed project? Not quite. Here, Construction News outlines the question marks still surrounding the project.

Should the Lord and Commons stay or go?

A debate on whether MPs will move out of the palace fully or partially – or indeed whether they will remain throughout – must take place before work on site can begin.

However, a date in the diary has been consistently pushed back, delaying the release of contracts for the works and subsequently hindering the project from getting under way.

A report produced by consultants Deloitte, Aecom and Hok in 2015 found that if both the Lords and Commons remained in the palace, it would only be possible to carry out a minimum programme of works, estimated to take 32 years at a cost of £5.7bn.

The cheapest scenario would cost £3.5bn and see both houses move out for six years, according to the study.

A joint committee, which was appointed in July 2015 to oversee the restoration project, last year recommended a full decant of parliament so major works could start by 2023.

However, some MPs have been dragging their heels over the prospect of leaving the palace while works are under way, and a probe by the public accounts committee was launched in February into the project.

Construction News learned MPs were expecting a debate for the project to take place on the 20 April 2017. However, the snap general election called by Theresa May in April meant it was pushed back.

A government source has told CN that a debate would now not be held before the summer recess, which commences 20 July, with the earliest possible date thought to be in October, after the party conferences.

Parliament refurb 13

Parliament refurb 13

SME are set to deliver much of the heritage work

Who’s going to deliver it?

A Delivery Authority will deliver and manage the mammoth programme. It will be composed largely of people with construction and major infrastructure project experience.

Around three-quarters of the budget for the restoration will be spent on engineering works and most of the remaining quarter on heritage works.

Speaking to Construction News in April, programme director for the parliamentary restoration project Tom Healey said contracts for the engineering works would most likely go to larger engineering contractors. Most of the heritage works meanwhile will be delivered by SMEs.

However, even major contractors may be reluctant to step up to deliver such a complex, high-profile and potentially risky project.

Parliament restoration: Possible timeline 

  • 2017? Debate on decant
  • 2020: Contractors appointed
  • 2023: Decant Houses of Commons and House of Lords
  • 2023: Construction starts

Palace of Westminster Houses of Parliament pipework 1

Palace of Westminster Houses of Parliament pipework 1

The palace contains miles of outdated M&E 

How does the project survive this political climate?

The contract for the restoration has been dished out, which is a step forward to getting the restoration under way.

But the amount of previous setbacks to the project, and the question mark hanging over the date for a debate to decide the form it takes, has left the industry cautious about progress.

One industry source close to the scheme said they would “be surprised if the project goes ahead in its current [recommended] form”.

They continued: “Something has to be done as the building is not fit for purpose. But after the events of Grenfell Tower, the government don’t want to be seen spending billions on this project. Politically, it would be better to be a patch and mend job instead of doing a more transformational job.”

Another industry source said they were “extremely surprised” the contract had been awarded at this point. “It seemed like the project was going to [slip into] next parliament,” they said. “It looked like there was no way it was going ahead with Brexit ongoing, the government elected on a slim majority and the events of Grenfell Tower.”

It was reported in June that a debate might be delayed due to the current political instability. Many MPs are against a full decant and a debate on this would divide parties further at a time when they most need to be stable.

In addition, Construction News understands some of the in-house restoration and renewal team have been moved over to the Northern Estate Programme beyond the gates of the palace. This might suggests work on the Palace of Westminster has not been identified as first on the list of things to do.

A spokesperson from the Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Programme said: “The team continues to carry out preparatory work for the programme to ensure parliament is ready to commission design work once members of both houses decide on the preferred way to carry out refurbishment works.

“The team is also supporting work on the Northern Estate Programme, as there are interdependencies between the two programmes.”

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