Designing for Democracy: March 2017 Newsletter

Posted on March 8th, 2017 by Amy Fedeski

Slow progress and breaking the gridlock: an update on Restoration and Renewal

The Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster was never going to be a quick or easy project. Indeed, anyone who understands the culture of parliament, its rather complicated governance arrangements or the historical experience of previous restoration phases would probably have expected a rather slow, cumbersome and at times frustrating process. This is, to some extent, what has occurred. It has now been over six months since the Joint Committee’s report recommended that a debate should be held without delay, to ask MPs and Peers to commit in principle to a ‘full decant’ of the Palace of Westminster for the necessary repair work to take place. In many ways this was a bold and completely sensible recommendation. And yet at the same time it is understandable that MPs and peers might need time to consider the full implications – the risks and opportunities – of such a move. Democratic politics is by its very nature a fairly messy exercise in conflict resolution and therefore the fact that it can be slow, difficult to understand from the outside and produce what economists would call ‘sub-optimal’ decisions is arguably part of the beauty of this worldly art rather than necessarily a failure. The problem, however, is that as time goes by the nature of the restoration and renewal challenge becomes more urgent, the scale of the project becomes more complex and the already eye-watering costs of plans increases. The parallel inquiries of the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Select Committee, announced earlier this year, are therefore welcome elements of much needed scrutiny and they will hopefully underline the need for a very clear and decisive decision to be taken. The Leader of the House, David Lidington, has told MPs that he hopes for the debate and vote to be held before the Easter recess.

The risk, however, is that a situation of institutionalised gridlock appears to be emerging whereby some parliamentarians want greater clarity on the costs and implications of the project; but this can only be achieved by moving to the next stage in the process; which they are unwilling to do, without having more detailed costings. This situation arguably reflects a slight misunderstanding about the nature of the proposed debate and vote in the Commons and Lords on the Joint Committee’s report No one is being asked to sign a blank cheque; no one is being asked to approve a multi-billion pound project on the basis of limited information. The debate and vote will revolve around a decision in principle on moving to exactly the detailed specification, costings and design stage that has been requested. The proposed Parliamentary Delivery Authority will then bring back a detailed project specification to both Houses for further debate and ultimately hopefully sign-off. Let’s hope that by the next newsletter this stage will have been initiated.

Relevant Media Reports/Articles

MPs Rebel Against £4billion Commons Revamp: Tory Ministers Urge Plans To Be Scrapped Over Fears It Will Trigger A Backlash From The Public, Mail Online, December 4, 2016

Consultant Team Scoops £500m MPs’ Offices Revamp, Building, December 13, 2016

MPs Fear £4bn Palace Makeover Will Upset Voters The Sun, December 17 2016

Twelve Parliamentarians to Shape Westminster in 2017, BBC, January 3 2017

Inside The Real Corridors Of Power Under Parliament… Which Could Bring It Down, Evening Standard, January 4, 2017

MPs ‘Will Be Crucified’ Over £3.5bn Parliament Revamp, The Times, January 6, 2017

MPs Build Brexit Case To Stay at Westminster Opponents Say Move During Restoration Would Risk British Soft Power at Critical Phase, Financial Times, January 6 2017

For Queen’s Sake, Don’t Close The Commons, Plead MPs, Mail Online January 8, 2017

Keep Parliament In Palace of Westminster During Refurb, MPs Urge, The Architects’ Journal, January 12, 2017

Parliament Burned Down 183 Years Ago. Only 24-Hour Patrols Are Stopping Another Fire, Observer, January 14 2017

MPs Launch Inquiry into Planned £4bn Palace of Westminster Overhaul, ITV Report. 15 January 2017

MPs To Scrutinise Cost of Parliament Restoration Works, BBC News, 15 January 2017

MPs Launch Inquiry Into £4bn Palace Of Westminster Renovation Plan; The Independent, January 15, 2017

Michael Gove Backs Opposition to £3.5bn Parliament Move, Building Online, January 16, 2017
Houses of Parliament in urgent need of multi-billion pound repairs ‘to avoid being flooded with sewage’ The Independent, January 16, 2017

Westminster Refurb: If We Get This Wrong We Could Lose Our Most Iconic National Building, The Times, January 16 2017

‘Vital’ restoration of Palace of Westminster, The Times, January 20, 2017

Palace Coup: Queen is Years Ahead in The Race To Sign Up Stonemasons, The Times (London), January 21, 2017

Quarter Of Voters Want Parliament Sold or Knocked Down, The Times, January 23, 2017

Tory MP Shailesh Vara Claims That Moving Out of Parliament to Allow Repairs ‘May Harm UK economy’, The National, January 26 2017

Parliament ‘Will Burn Down Again’ January 26 2017, The Times

Parliament Refit Means Queen Would Lie in State At St Paul’s, The Times, January 28, 2017

MPs Fighting to Stay in Palace of Westminster, The Express, January 28, 2017

Queen Could Lie In State in St Paul’s Cathedral If She Dies When Parliament is Closed For Repairs After 2022, Mail Online, January 28, 2017

Westminster’s Sinking. Time For Our Rat-Infested Parliament To Be Sold Off, The Telegraph, January 27 2017

MPs demand more detail on £4bn parliament works plan, The Observer, 29 January 2017

New Inquiry Into Multi-Billion Pound Parliament Restoration, Architects’ Journal, February 1, 2017

The pollution taking its toll on Westminster, The Times, February 1, 2017

Westminster refit as costly as original build, The Financial Times, February 4 2017

Race Starts For £650m MP’s Offices Overhaul, Construction Enquirer, February 14 2017

Cross Bencher: Houses of Parliament in need of storage space, The Express, February 19 2017

Multibillion-pound Westminster repairs could cost more than first estimated, commons clerk warns The Standard, February 21, 2017

Go north, The pragmatic case for moving Britain’s capital to Manchester, The Economist, February 23, 2017

Lucky Escape, But For How Long? BBC, February 23, 2017

Today in Parliament, Mark D’Arcy, February 24 2017


David Lidington has announced that the debate and vote is expected to be held before the Easter recess.

Lidington stated: “On the subject of restoration and renewal, I am not in a position to announce a specific date, but I can tell the hon. Lady that the Government’s intention is that there should be debate in Government time before the Easter recess” (HC Deb, 9 Feb 2017, Col 656).

Public Accounts Committee Launched an Inquiry into Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster

The Public Accounts Committee recently launched an inquiry into the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster. We submitted evidence to the Committee highlighting that the proposed restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster is a major investment, not only in the fabric of the building, but also in our democracy. We also stressed that it is vital that the Delivery Authority is established without further delay, as recommended by the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, so that a fully costed business case can be produced for scrutiny, by the Committee, and the two Houses more widely. We also suggested that Committee may wish to consider whether the proposed governance arrangements have incorporated the lessons of the successful London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as recommended by the PAC in the 2010-15 Parliament. Our full evidence was published online, you can read it in full here: Crick Centre Evidence PAC

On the 21st February the Public Accounts Committee took evidence from the following individuals:  Tony Meggs, Chief Executive, Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and Andrew Wolstenholme, Chief Executive, Crossrail Ltd, David Natzler, Clerk of the House of Commons, Martin Buck, External Consultant for House of Commons, and Jennifer Wood, External Member of the Restoration and Renewal Programme Board.

Treasury Committee Launched an Inquiry into the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster

On 16th January the Treasury Committee announced an inquiry into the Restoration and Renewal Programme. We have provided a written submission to the Committee.

Upcoming Event

“Designing For Democracy:  The Role Of Architecture and Design in Parliamentary Buildings” An Inter-Disciplinary Roundtable Discussion, Tuesday 11 April 2017, 13.30-15.00 Technology Centre Room, Political Studies Association Conference.

The aim of this roundtable is to begin a conversation about the opportunities and challenges created by the challenge of designing for democracy that draws upon a range of disciplinary insights and approaches. The roundtable will bring academics, politicians and architects together in order to explore a number of questions concerning ‘the politics of design’ and ‘the design of politics’. Critical questions include:  How have previous attempts to ‘design for democracy’ been successful? What evidence is there that architecture and design matter? What does comparative political analysis suggest about formal and informal institutional structures? What would a more design-orientated brand of political science actually look like? Is there a link between contemporary conceptions of sensory democracy and designing for democracy? Would ‘better design’ necessarily lead to ‘better politics’? Should academics seek to inform or engage with the Restoration and Renewal Process? And, Have the social and political sciences lost their ability to re-imagine democratic politics?

This roundtable is intended to be an engaging and fairly fast paced event. The format will be that after a brief introduction from the Chair the first three speakers will be given six minutes to outline the main insights of their research or thoughts. This will then flow into twenty minutes of open discussion and debate including questions from the floor. The final three speakers will then be invited to offer up to six minutes of provocative thoughts and musings. This will be followed by a second twenty-minute session of open discussion. The output of this roundtable will be a short summary document that will be formally submitted to the Restoration and Renewal Team with the Houses of Parliament along with a list of interested academics that are happy to engage with the process. Speakers include: Dr Paul Seaward, History of Parliament Trust, ‘The Politics of Seating Layout’, Henrik Schoenefedt, University of Kent ‘Participatory Design and Parliamentary Reform’, Stephen Thornton, Cardiff University, ‘The Pop Up Parliament in the 1960s’, Sarah Childs, Bristol University, ‘Good Parliament’, Malcolm Fraser, ‘The Beauty of Utility in Remade Parliament’, Prof. Lord. David Blunkett ‘Casting Spells and Seeing Differently’, and Prof. Philip Norton, Lord Norton of Louth, University of Hull.

Partner Blogs

Parliaments around the world: what can architecture teach us about democracy? Hansard Society Blog

In a recent study of the plenary halls of every UN member-state legislature, Amsterdam-based architectural firm XML analysed the relationships between space, decision-making and democracy, exploring the recent history of our legislative topologies and posing timely questions about their future. The blog outlines the study’s findings. The blog can be read in full here.

D4D Blog

If you are interesting in contributing to our blog series on ‘Designing for Democracy’ then please do get in touch. We are eager to publish blogs that explore all elements of design and architecture of political buildings.

Contact the D4D team

Progamme Director: Professor Matt Flinders


Twitter: @crickcentre