The Architecture of Democracy Relocating the House of Commons.

On 8th September 2016, the Joint Committee for the Palace of Westminster published their report which concluded the Palace “faces an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore” (Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, 2016). The document outlines the issues within the Palace of Westminster that require urgent attention and explores the methods through which the Palace can be restored to a state fit for Parliamentary use. In 2016 alone the cost to keep the Palace of Westminster in a “working condition” was £49 million (Bryant, 2017) and with every year the full restoration is delayed “£60 million to £85 million [is added] to the cost of the project” (Clifton-Brown, 2017). The proposed restoration will cost the public a minimum of £3.9 billion with costs expected to rise.

Within my DP3 investigation I argued that the Palace of Westminster is not fit for purpose as a modern parliamentary building. Of the 278 MP offices within the Palace of Westminster “45 offices are windowless and a number of others have very little natural light”.

The House of Commons Chamber has seen no significant alternation since it was rebuilt to the original Gothic design after being damaged in the Blitz, as such it is lacking the amenities of a modern parliamentary chamber. The chamber is laid out in an adversarial opposing bench layout which is more conducive to argument than the discussion and consensus of the semi-circular layout favoured by the majority of democratic nation, MPs are cramped onto benches with no space for notes, despite there currently being 650 MPs there is only seating space within the Chamber for 437 (including seating in the galleries) [Official Guide].

The public gallery is separated from the chamber and has only a limited number of seats, as such many members of the public are turned away during popular debates and Prime Minister’s Questions. Additionally, there is no opportunity for casual viewing of parliamentary proceedings. While modern parliaments permit the public to get a short glimpse of proceedings from a vantage point within the Palace it is only possible by queueing for access to the public gallery.

While all debates are now available to view by webcast the broadcasting facilities within the chamber are inadequate with microphones having to by hung from the ceiling, and remote cameras fixed to the walls. Since 1802 the press have had offices within the Palaces but these are incredibly densely occupied and in need of expansion, additionally they would benefit from access to dedicated broadcasting space.

Finally, the complexity of the Palace layout creates a number of security issues that have never been addressed which includes a lack of security zoning to “demarcate public and private areas”. Therefore, even if the £3.9 billion of public money is spent on the restoration of the Palace it will not solve these fundamental architectural issues.

Next project