Progress on the Restoration and Renewal (R&R) project has been slow, but despite the time taken, there has been limited engagement with the public on the issue. Alexandra Anderson, Alexandra Meakin and Matt Flinders express optimism that amendments to the legislation responsible for R&R indicate a promising change of direction, creating an opportunity not to simply restore and protect the past but to embrace a positive vision of the future.
It is now three years since a Joint Select Committee warned that ‘The Palace of Westminster, a masterpiece of Victorian and medieval architecture and engineering, faces an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore’. This crisis, the Committee continued, was likely to be a catastrophe, such as a major fire or flood, or a succession of failures of the infrastructure, leaving the building unusable. There can now be no doubt about the validity of this warning: since the Committee reported we have seen the House of Commons flood during a debate, a ‘football-sized lump’ fall off the Victoria Tower, and wardens are currently patrolling the building twenty-four hours a day to address the regular outbreaks of fire (now totalling 66 in the last decade). As the then Leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, told MPs in May — referring only to the instances of crumbling masonry — ‘It is only through luck that none of them has led to any serious injuries or even fatalities’. If any further warning was necessary, the tragedy of Notre Dame in April demonstrated the potential devastation of fire.
This week has marked a significant step forward in plans for a major renovation, aimed at keeping the building—and the visitors, parliamentarians, and staff within it—safe from disaster or tragedy. The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019, which has now received Royal Assent, will establish the necessary governance bodies so that the planning work for what will be a multi-billion, multi-decade project can begin in earnest.
Not only will the Act offer the best opportunity for preventing a crisis hitting the Palace, it also offers the opportunity to place the public at the heart of this renovation: the Restoration and Renewal (R&R) Programme. This is hugely significant. The original text of the legislation (and the projects associated with the wider programme) were designed to address only the crisis of the building, and not the broader crisis of UK democracy. Amendments tabled in the House of Lords and approved by the Commons on Monday have ensured that public engagement will be an integral part of fixing the Palace. Continue reading