The mother of all refurbs?

According to reports over the long weekend ( House of Commons officials have floated the idea of moving Parliament to a temporary home so that essential repairs can be done to the Victorian premises.

One option is to use the nearby Queen Elizabeth II conference centre across Parliament Square. According to reports, the work could take up to five years at a cost of £3bn. Much of the building dates from the 1840s and ‘50s and anyone who has visited will know that many of the services are outdated. Asbestos is also a problem.

Facilities managers understand how much easier it is to carry out major refurbishment without trying to work around occupants.

But there is opposition. One senior MP who sits on the House of Commons commission (responsible for the administration and services of the House) is quoted as saying: “I would not be happy to have other options closed down just because it suits some building manager to close down parliament.”

But what an opportunity – not only to improve the functioning of the Parliamentary estate but to experiment with new ways of working for MPs and Parliament. Opinion is divided on the architectural design of Portcullis House but it undoubtedly provides better facilities for MPs and support staff. Other parliament and assembly buildings such as the Reichstag in Berlin, the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood or the Greater London Assembly down the river at Tower Bridge have opened up the functioning of democracy to electorates.

Why not hold a competition to design the temporary facilities and, in an age of coalition politics, perhaps move away from the adversarial layout of the Commons?

Cathy Hayward