Designing for Democracy: December 2016 Newsletter

Posted on December 5th, 2016 by Amy Fedeski


A Slow Autumn for Restoration and Renewal

Nearly three months have now passed since the publication of the Joint Committee’s report and recommendation for a full decant of the Palace of Westminster. The Government’s position is now that the debates and votes in both Houses are likely to take place early in the New Year but it is possible to detect a growing sense of frustration within and beyond the Palace of Westminster about the lack of progress. Committee member and spokesman for the Joint Committee group, Labour MP Chris Bryant, said: ‘My anxiety is that the longer this delay goes on the more we ratchet up the risk to the building and the risk to the project itself’. Press reports have suggested that the timetable for the works has already slipped back from 2020 to 2023 and this in itself brings significant financial and planning implications. An obvious complicating factor is that Brexit planning and discussions are taking up the lion’s share of the government’s and parliament’s time. If a Great Repeal Bill is brought forward by the government next year then there is a risk that the proposed restoration and renewal programme could be shunted into the sidelines for some years.

The Northern Estate

The Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster is just part of a complex infrastructure jigsaw that needs significant preparatory work to be completed before the temporary chambers can be built or the proposed decant take place. A central element of this jigsaw is the Northern Estate Programme. The buildings to be restored include the grade I-listed Norman Shaw North and grade II-listed Norman Shaw South buildings – both of which are now over 100 years old – along with 1 Derby Gate and 1 Parliament Street, a pair of grade II-listed adjoining buildings dating from the 1880s, and the Cannon Row residences. In mid-November it was announced that BDP had been awarded the lead design contract for this £500 million modernisation of MPs offices. The works may also include Richmond House, currently occupied by the Department of Health, which is the proposed new temporary home for the House of Commons during £4bn restoration works on the Palace of Westminster. BDP will provide architectural design, lead design, master planning, town planning, design management and coordination, decant and relocation planning, workspace design, BIM services, heritage and conservation design, surveys management, security and other services in the programme of works. BDP is also shortlisted as one of four practices for a separate programme of work on the Restoration and Renewal Programme for the Palace of Westminster.

That Vision Thing

Possibly one of the most important issues to emerge out of discussions in recent months is the need for a far greater vision and far greater leadership in relation to the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster. Successful projects around the world tend to demonstrate two core features – the existence of a very clear vision of what the project is attempting to achieve, and the existence of a senior public figure who is personally committed to and associated with the project and who can remove political obstacles. As a number of commentators have emphasized in recent months, the Restoration and Renewal process seems uncertain as to the core aim of the project. Is it to protect the physical heritage of the Palace of Westminster or to deliver a parliament that is fit for the twenty-first century? This point was recently made by the SNP MP and Joint Committee member Neil Gray with his question ‘are we artificially crow-barring a parliament into an old palace at a premium?’ Moreover, the current delays concerning the plans for the debates and votes on the Joint Committee’s report arguably underline the absence of any clear constitutional entrepreneur who is willing to drive the programme forward.

Parliamentary Fellowship Opportunities Launched
The Political Studies Association has been working closely with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) and the House of Commons and the House of Lords to launch a range of new fellowship opportunities. These include fellowships for Ph.D students and academics at all levels. Projects can be proposed by the applicants or chosen from an agreed list of ideas that have been put forward by parliamentary staff. Further information at –   

Partner Events and Projects

As part of Parliament Week, the Hansard Society held an event on the 14 November on ‘Future Parliament: Hacking the Legislative Process / Capacity, Scrutiny, Engagement’. Full details at –

‘Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal- What Next?’ was a major public debate that was held in the Speaker’s House as part of Parliament Week. Speakers included Hugh Fielden (Chair of the RIBA Conservation Group), Oonagh Gay (adviser to MPs and staff for 32 years and former chair of the Study of Parliament Group), Chris Bryant MP (Joint Committee spokesperson) and Matthew Flinders (University of Sheffield). Full details at –

Sarah Child’s ‘The Good Parliament Report’ was published towards the end of the summer and immediately received support from the Speaker of the House of Commons through the creation of The Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion See:


Crick Annual Lecture: Mr Speaker Outlines his Vision for ‘Designing for Democracy’

On Thursday 27 October 2016 the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon. John Bercow MP, gave the 2016 Crick Annual Lecture on the theme of ‘Designing for Democracy’ and not only supported the Joint Committee’s recommendation for a full decant but also called for ‘a national conversation’ about what a parliament that was truly fit for the twenty-first century should look like. The audience was a sell out with over a thousand people attending and even more people on a waiting list.  The lecture can be viewed via –  

Intelligent Design and the Restoration and Renewal – The House Magazine

In this article Matthew Flinders argues that the restoration of the Palace of Westminster represents a rare opportunity to repair public confidence in democratic politics. See

Contact the D4D team

Progamme Director: Professor Matt Flinders


Twitter: @crickcentre