Senior MPs behind plans for a temporary Parliament have been accused of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds – while bulldozing a Grade II listed building – because they have rejected electronic voting.
The project to move the Commons to Richmond House on Whitehall for up to a decade while major renovations take place is under fire from heritage campaigners, architects and other MPs for being an unnecessary extravagance.
The group Save Britain's Heritage has called it “a grotesque waste of public money” that will “destroy a 30 year-old government building, constructed to an exceptional high specification”.
During a heated Commons debate, several MPs agreed – and argued it would be not have been proposed but for an obsession with sticking with traditional voting methods. They require MPs to leave the chamber and troop into adjacent voting lobbies to have their names recorded, a process that takes 20 minutes – while requiring far more space.
Sir Edward Leigh, a Conservative, said: “The House authorities insisted that they wanted a chamber of exactly the same size and these very wide division lobbies, which means that we have to demolish a whole listed building.
“If we had modern voting during the temporary decant, as they do in every other Parliament in Europe, and just had a card to put next to a machine, we would not need the division lobbies, and we would not need to demolish Richmond House.”
Sarah Wollaston of Change UK agreed, saying: “The public would be deeply shocked if we were seen to be building obsolescence into such an extraordinarily expensive project by not having the capacity for electronic voting.”
The Scottish National Party’s Patrick Grady urged the Commons authorities to copy the modern chamber at the Scottish Parliament, which has electronic voting.
“What is being proposed here is simply to do everything up but keep it exactly the same, even though it is not fit for purpose,” he protested.
Leigh said an initial plan had been to build a temporary chamber in the courtyard of Richmond House – avoiding its demolition – before the space available was deemed too small. Alternatively, he proposed a small chamber in the atrium of Portcullis House, where most MPs have their offices.
Nevertheless, MPs approved the draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill, to kick-start the project with a view to making the move around 2025.
The move was chosen over several alternatives in 2016 on the grounds that it would be the least disruptive and costly option. However, it is part of a wider master plan for Parliament’s Northern Estate, which is alone expected to cost up to £1.6 billion, while the full restoration of Parliament will cost up to £6 billion.
Image: Richmond House from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0