On 18 October 2023, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate the following motion:

The senior deputy speaker to move that the Grand Committee takes note of the report from the corporate officer of the House of Commons and the corporate officer of the House of Lords, ‘Restoration and renewal: Annual progress report 2023’ (HC 1603).

1. Background: Parliament’s restoration and renewal programme

1.1 Initial governance structure

It is widely accepted that the Palace of Westminster needs substantial repair and restoration work to preserve the site and ensure it can continue to be the home of the UK Parliament. As a result, in recent years Parliament has looked to agree a scheme of works to address the problems:

1.2 Concerns over costs and timings

As requested by the House of Commons Commission, the sponsor body produced the requested initial assessment. This was considered by the sponsor board and commissions of the House of Commons and House of Lords in December 2021 and January 2022.

The estimates at that time suggested that the ‘essential scheme’ (the full decant of the palace) would cost between £7bn and £13bn (excluding VAT) and take between 19 and 28 years, with the palace needing to be vacated for 12 to 20 years. The initial assessment also outlined a ‘continued presence’ study which found that if parliamentarians remained in the building, both the costs and time taken would increase. It also identified “a number of key risks of a continued presence” approach which it argued would need to be addressed. These included fire safety, compliance with health and safety legislation and disruption to parliamentary business.

The House of Commons Commission expressed concerns about the estimated costs and schedule and asked the clerk of the House of Commons to prepare a paper on “potential next steps”. The House of Lords Commission also expressed concerns about the length of the decant period and asked the R&R programme to explore how it could be reduced. The Lords commission also noted the “significant impact” of a maintained Commons presence as well as the associated risks. It therefore agreed not to endorse any further work on the continued presence options and to communicate this to the House of Commons.

1.3 A new approach

In February 2022, the House of Commons Commission proposed changes to the governance and approach of the R&R programme. It suggested that the sponsor body be replaced with a new, separate department to service both Houses, known as the client team. This would report, ultimately, to the commissions. Within this model, the sponsor board would be replaced by a new two-tiered governance structure. This approach was agreed in a joint meeting of the commissions in March 2022. Also agreed were plans to seek independent advice and assurance on the new approach to the works, as well as on the proposals to take forward the decision to replace the sponsor body.

In a joint report in June 2022, the commissions of both Houses set out their proposals for a new mandate for the R&R programme. In July 2022, both Houses of Parliament agreed to implement the recommendations of this joint report and therefore endorsed a new two-tier member oversight structure that would:

[…] integrate the governance of the R&R programme into the existing governance structures in Parliament, bringing the sponsor function in-house and maintaining the independence of the delivery authority.

In a debate in the House of Lords in July 2022, the then Lord Privy Seal and leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, explained these proposed changes. She said that they would enable work to be completed to produce the strategic case which would set out options for further development. This would be presented to both Houses by the end of 2023.

The two-tier structure agreed, which replaced the sponsor board, includes:

  • The R&R client board: This is made up of both commissions and is responsible for strategic decisions on R&R matters. It started meeting in October 2022.
  • The R&R programme board: A cross-party group of parliamentarians, officials and external members with delegated authority from the client board. It was established in February 2023 and meets monthly. The Lords members were appointed by the House.

In January 2023, the corporate officers of both Houses took on legal responsibilities for the R&R programme under the 2019 act. The same month, the client team, which supports the above boards, replaced the sponsor body following a transition project. This team instructs the work of the independent R&R delivery authority, which is responsible for designing and delivering the works.

Throughout these changes the delivery authority remained an independently operated statutory body, although its oversight was transferred to the new governance structure. A new delivery agreement was put in place between the corporate officers (the clerks of both Houses) and the delivery authority to provide a framework for their relationship. The client team has also put in place a task brief for the delivery authority which set out expectations for delivery to support the new mandate and to ensure appropriate oversight.

Further background information on these changes, including some of the reaction to this new approach, is available in the Library’s briefing ‘A new mandate for the restoration and renewal programme’ (6 July 2022).

2. First R&R annual progress report

In July 2023, the R&R programme published its first annual progress report. It stated that the document highlighted the progress made by the parliamentary building works and sought to bring together in one place information relating to the R&R programme.

2.1 Summary of work and next steps

In her foreword, the interim managing director of the client team, Dr Patsy Richards, said that since Parliament approved the new governance structure, work had been underway to “implement the recommendations swiftly”. Explaining that phase one of the programme would culminate in a fully costed proposal being presented to both Houses for approval, Dr Richards said that work had been undertaken to develop and assess a range of options to be considered in depth by the programme board.

Dr Richards explained that these options would be presented to the client board before the 2023 summer recess, with plans to take “a small number of shortlisted options to the floor of each House to endorse as the preferred way forward by the end of 2023”. She said that this would be a key decision and would be consequential for the subsequent delivery of costs proposals which are due to be decided by the Houses in late 2024 or early 2025, depending on the timings of any general election. To support this shortlisting process, Dr Richards said that the client team was preparing a programme of strategic engagement. Further information on these key milestones can be found on pages 24–7 of the report.

Alongside this work, Dr Richards said that thousands of hours of delivery authority surveys had been carried out across the palace. These included, for the first time, intrusive and disruptive surveys to help understand underground conditions as well as drone surveys to assess the condition of stonework and rooftops.

2.2 Further information on the development of new options

The report explained that under the new mandate it had been agreed that the following areas should be prioritised when options for the works were developed:

  • fire safety and protection
  • replacement of mechanical and electrical systems, drainage and plumbing as well as data and communications systems
  • asbestos management and wider health and safety issues
  • conservation of the building fabric, including stonework

The report said that the delivery authority had developed a wide range of options which set out various methods for restoring the palace as well as a “spectrum of levels of ambition for the outcomes that could be achieved”. This work led to the production of 36 delivery options. Earlier design work was used to inform these options. This included reassessing over 1,750 technical reports that had been completed before January 2022. The report also set out the evaluation criteria which it said was used to assess the options developed.

Towards the end of the reporting period, the R&R programme board was presented with the output of this work. This included high-level cost and schedule information and evidence of the levels of disruption and health, safety and other risks that could arise, as well as the decant periods for either or both Houses. It said that this information would help the R&R programme and client boards to shortlist the delivery options to be presented to both Houses. The programme board has agreed in principle that the delivery authority will publish a technical summary report setting out the options and including indicative costs and timescales.

2.3 Comments on decant of the palace

The report said that whichever delivery options are shortlisted, “a significant element of decant from the Palace of Westminster will be required”. This would mean that for periods of the R&R programme, a temporary transfer to alternative working venues will be needed for both Houses. Considering this, the report said the R&R programme would review and consult on work on temporary accommodation done before the new programme mandate was agreed.

2.4 Other information

The report also contained sections on the following topics:

  • Assurance: Information on assurance work commissioned under the programme.
  • Consultation and engagement: Outline of the work completed to engage with various groups, including members, the parliamentary community, technical experts and the wider public ahead of anticipated key milestones.
  • Survey progress: An overview of the programme of surveys that has taken place.
  • Uncovering history: Information on a discovery made of a possible section of medieval river wall that could be at least 700 years old.
  • Heritage collections: Details of work undertaken on plans to ensure the safety of the palace’s heritage collections whilst R&R takes place.
  • Financial performance: An overview of the expenditure of the R&R programme as well as a summary of the main external contracts awarded by the delivery authority.

3. Other relevant reports

3.1 Independent peer review March 2023

An independent peer review (IPR) of the R&R programme was published in March 2023. The IPR was commissioned to provide assurance that the programme was progressing in line with the new governance mandate and focused on phase one: the development of and approval by both Houses of proposals relating to the design, cost and timing of the R&R works. This first phase is due to be completed by the end of 2024, with an “important intermediate milestone” being the opportunity for both Houses to debate and approve a strategic case by the end of 2023.

The review team commended the “considerable progress” made over the year, highlighting the transition to a new model of governance and the development of a broad range of R&R options.

Looking ahead, the IPR said that successful delivery of phase one appeared “feasible, albeit challenging”. It argued that a timely response was needed to address “significant issues that already exist”. These issues included:

  • resource constraints in the client team
  • a need for robust engagement and communications to allow effective scrutiny of the options for the works and to build confidence in any decision taken
  • the need to “design for uncertainty” to account for unknown future events or changing parliamentary expectations in the long term

The review team said that the issues were resolvable “at this stage if addressed promptly” and set out recommendations to support delivery of phase one.

3.2 Quarterly report April to June 2023

The R&R programme board published its second quarterly report in July 2023. This report highlighted the progress made on the organisational design of the R&R client team, stating that this ensured the team had the necessary capabilities. It said that “significant effort” had been focused on programme planning and parliamentary engagement with members and staff. It also noted “good collaboration” between parliamentary teams and the delivery authority “to ensure that current estate activity on the parliamentary estate is well coordinated and that future activity is integrated to ensure priority works are prioritised”.

In his foreword, Nigel Evans, Conservative MP for Ribble Valley and chair of the R&R programme board, reported that the board had reached consensus on the shortlist of delivery options in June 2023. These were endorsed by the R&R client board the following month. Mr Evans explained that this put the programme on track to present a shortlist to both Houses later in 2023 as part of the ‘strategic case’. He said that members would be asked to agree to further detailed work on two shortlisted options, before fully costed proposals are later put before both Houses for a decision.

Further information available in the report included a summary of ongoing works on the estate and maintenance works, details of R&R phase one milestones, information on recent survey work, an overview of engagement work, financial information and details on managing risks.

The quarterly report covering January to March 2023 is available on the UK Parliament website.

3.3 Public Accounts Committee report May 2023

In May 2023, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published its report ‘Restoration & renewal of the Palace of Westminster: 2023 recall’. The committee argued that “after years of procrastination, and parliamentary decisions being reopened”, House authorities had introduced significant changes “at pace” to the R&R programme. It called for this momentum to be maintained for there to be “a fighting chance of achieving an extremely ambitious programme timetable” and highlighted plans for the strategic case to be debated in Parliament by the end of 2023.

On the roles of the clerk of the House of Commons and the clerk of the Parliaments under the new governance structure, the committee said that it was encouraged by their public acknowledgement of the “enormity of the task” and the challenges ahead. However, the committee argued that this changed governance structure was untested and that despite the legal accountability the clerks had taken on, there was no mechanism, short of resignation, for them to place any concerns on record. It said that such a mechanism should exist.

Looking forward, the committee said that for progress to be made, Parliament still needed to agree on what a restored palace might look like, and how the work would be undertaken. It argued that questions remain unanswered and that while the costs of R&R would be high, a “lack of action is not value for money”. The committee therefore called on parliamentarians to “grasp the scale and importance of what needs to be done” and engage with the work. It also said that the clerks and R&R client team should “build confidence in their ability to deliver a programme of this magnitude and complexity”. Timely transparency and compliance with health and safety protocols, especially around asbestos, would help this. In addition, the committee set out a number of conclusions and recommendations in its report.

In July 2023, the committee opened a further inquiry on R&R to “explore progress on the project ahead of a debate on the subject in the House of Commons due to take place in December 2023”. It is currently accepting evidence and has an evidence session scheduled on 19 October 2023 where it will hear evidence from the clerk of the House of Commons, the interim managing director for the R&R client team, the chief executive of the R&R delivery authority and the clerk of the Parliaments. These individuals had previously given evidence to the committee in February 2023.

4. Read more

Cover image by Aron Van de Pol on Unsplash.