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Why don’t they just knock it down?

In central London there is an clapped-out old building. One option would be to demolish it and replace it with something nice in steel and glass. Another option, as Michael Jennings likes to point out, would be to demolish it and replace it with tarmac. The building in question stands bang in the middle of two major thoroughfares causing a huge bottleneck.

So, what do our politicians think should be done? Well, they’re not thinking in terms of steel, glass or tarmac. They’re not even thinking of demolition. They think that £5bn of taxpayers’ money should be shelled out on its restoration. Which means it will be at least £10bn by the time they’re finished. If we’re lucky. You could build a lot of hospitals for that kind of money.

You may be familiar with the building in question:

london_parliament_2007-1

Now I accept that for the time being we have a state and that representative democracies are usually better than the alternatives. I also accept that it is probably difficult to do politics online so Parliament needs some kind of physical location. But where?

Luckily there is a place that seems to cover all the bases. It is easy to get to. There is plenty of land for development. It would take politicians out of the metropolitan bubble. And it would gently remind them of the consequences of over-regulation. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the location of the new Mother of Parliaments:

Milton Keynes.

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51 comments to Why don’t they just knock it down?

  • Chester Draws

    They could keep the facade, build a modern building underneath, and still have quite a lot of change from that sum.

    Like the new Reichstag, whose glass dome is quite the hit. They did that for under half a billion.

  • Alisa

    I also accept that it is probably difficult to do politics online

    Are you sure?…

  • Kevin B

    I’m sure there’s a billionaire American history buff who’d be happy to ship the whole thing to Las Vegas and repurpose it as a hotel/casino. And the money he pays would go towards the Milton Keynes replacement.

    As for what to replace it with? Tarmac. There’s no such thing as ‘something nice in glass and steel’.

  • I’m not at all sure I can agree with Patrick on two of his three proposals.

    Surely the Palace of Westminster is rightly a World Heritage Site. The building has unique merit (in its peculiarity) and is known across the world (well, perhaps just the Anglosphere) as the Mother of Parliaments – though not starting in that particular building. The building should become a museum of (all) government! The current and major essential building works do present an ideal opportunity for a cost-effective change of function.

    The suggestion of parliament in Milton Keynes is also one I find flawed – despite or because of having been born on ground now so labelled, and being too familiar with it. I prefer the idea of a mobile parliament – changing location with each general election. There should also be (mixed) mobile or distributed government administration; this is easily managed now we have the Internet. The reason for mobility is to remove the prime cause of the geographic imbalance within the UK economy – too much political power in the one place for too long. More frequent moves would find further favour with me: as part of a policy of keeping our politicians in their place – on the hop!

    The current building’s suitability for the parliament of the UK is, I agree, not good; it is unlikely to get better with refurbishment. Particular problems include not providing a seat in the House of Commons for every MP – when they all bother to turn up. Also, I think a modest bit of desk space would be useful (as in a university lecture theatre). It would also be good if MPs could get in and out of their seats without forcing others to move aside. Of course, there should also be means of push-button (electronic or computerised) voting from their seats – primarily to avoid the current time-wasting approach – and encourage them to turn up for debates (by providing no mechanism otherwise, for voting).

    As an aside, the geographical rotation of parliament would allow swathes of the Civil Service to be located away from London – without their fear (inhibiting such moves in the past) of their being away from the (one and only) centre of action.

    The tourist attraction of the State Opening of Parliament should still occur annually at the current location – as no change in government policy should be damaging to existing business. The annual event would be an added attraction with its new ‘museum’ status!

    Best regards

  • Demolish it (just leave the Elizabeth/St. Stephen’s Tower), move Parliament to Milton Keynes, then demolish Milton Keynes. Sorted.

  • CaptDMO

    Across the Anglosphere?
    I (US)didn’t recognize the building until I saw St. Stephen’s Tower, and I’ve stood right in front of it in the past. (on the other side)

    KevinB “…There’s no such thing as ‘something nice in glass and steel’”
    Agreed, REARDON metal however…and not so much glass.
    (Chrysler Building, Manhattan, New York City)
    We won’t chat abut the pyramid at The Louvre, or downtown Houston (Texas)

    5bn, (ultimately 10 of course)?
    Gosh, that’s a lot for an outside pressure wash and new coat of epoxy paint on the inside.

  • pete

    The noddy Scottish Parliament building was ten times over budget.

    We can expect the same at Westminster.

    Knock it down and build a cheap debating chamber with offices attached.

  • bloke in spain

    I’ve done restoration work on buildings contemporary with the H0P, including structural. How you get a price tag of £5b is beyond me. Well, no it isn’t. It’ll be similar to my jobs. The cost of the blokes getting their hands dirty doing it will be minor. The rest’s made up paying the suits stand about watching.

  • James Hargrave

    I had the Milton Keynes idea long ago – a suitable location for the tawdry and tasteless collection of inmates we have found ourselves with for a generation, but also ideal from a ‘security’ point of view (not that I buy into the general security paranoia). If in Milton Keynes, who would (1) be able to find it, (2) want to do anything to what would obviously be a tawdry building, (3) if they succeeded in (1) and (2) to circle its roundabouts and intersections, never able to escape, a sort of eternal purgatory. (Or build new huts in the grounds of Bletchley Park and, in combination with the railway works in Wolverton…)

    And while we are it, knock down the Scotch eructation and move them to somewhere nice and central (Rannoch Moor?), and flood the pitiful pile of rubbish in Cardiff Bay (I write from Wales).

  • Gareth

    Chester Draws,

    Yes. Exactly as they do on the Property Ladder telly show when some mug buys an old house – brace the exterior, gut the interior and you’ve got a free hand to arrange it as you like. Dig out the basement just to annoy Brian May and you can have a modern building that still looks like the tourist trinkets. It doesn’t need to be expensive, cutting edge or artistic.

    And then sell it for a massive profit for the taxpayer.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    When the US Constitution is rewritten, I want to see a provision restricting all federal buildings to prefabricated steel construction. Preferably in Nebraska.

    Enough already with the Glory of the State!

  • Jacob

    The UN building in NY was renovated for 3 billion $ in 2012… .
    The planned cost was 1 bn, the final cost 3 bn. Donald Trump said they were crazy, for 3 bn he could have built 10 new building of the same size…
    Maybe you contract Trump for the Parliament renovation. He could do there the Miss Universe contest once a year instead of P opening.

  • Greytop

    Parliament should be on an storm-tossed island, accessible on a few days of the year. Either the MPs stay there all the time to pass whatever laws they think are needed, or they don’t go. Oh, and they only get paid for hours in the house. Minimum wage, I would think.

    If they really do believe in the concept of ‘public service’ they should have no qualms.

  • Jacob

    Trump:

    “I did the 90-story building opposite the United Nations for $360 million, and it’s brand new. So how does it cost $1.6 billion to fix the building?” he asked.

    He didn’t know then that the cost was more like 3 bn.

  • Nigel Sedgwick, September 11, 2016 at 9:17 am: “The current building’s suitability for the parliament of the UK is, I agree, not good; it is unlikely to get better with refurbishment. Particular problems include not providing a seat in the House of Commons for every MP – when they all bother to turn up. Also, I think a modest bit of desk space would be useful (as in a university lecture theatre).”

    As Sir Winston Churchill explained very clearly, all these features of Westminster are virtues, not faults: (a) no parliament should be big enough to contain all its member; (b) the seats must face each other on opposite sides of a rectangle, not be arranged in a semi-circle; (c) there should not be extensive desk space around each MP. His specific explanation for why all these things, so routinely desired by individual MPs, are bad for the quality of governance the populace gets, should be required reading for the refurbishes, (I don’t have the reference to hand. It was a late speech – maybe some opening of Parliament in the 50s- and is quoted early in Randolph Churchill’s work on him, probably in other places too.)

    The chief danger of the planned refurbishment is that our ruling class, ignoring Churchill, will serve themselves, and harm us, by making WEestminster’s interior resemble like the Scottish parliament, or a typical European one, all of which, as Churchill explains, are architectural declarations that the parliament will serve its members, not the people.

    BTW, pete, September 11, 2016 at 11:17 am, said: “The noddy Scottish Parliament building was ten times over budget.” Actually, it was eleven times over budget – another ‘great moment in public sector procurement’, rivalling the Edinburgh trams. I think the mother of parliaments will manage to be less than 1000% over budget. The ‘quality’ of government we receive here in Scotland sets a standard few can match, though it would seem the state of Queensland is in contention. 🙂

  • Drunkenson

    England is the mother of parliaments, not that godawful monument to gasbaggery on the Thames.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Apparently, the original budget for the Palace of Westminster was £700,000 and it ended up costing £2m. So only 3 times over.

  • I agree with Niall (and Churchill) on that score entirely 😉

  • Laird

    A few thoughts from the other side of the pond:

    1) Whatever the building’s “fitness for purpose” (I’m not competent to express an informed opinion on that, although I suspect that Churchill might have been right about it, as he was about so much else), the building is one of the few truly iconic structures in the world. Tarmac may be more functional in modern London, but you can’t (shouldn’t, anyway) simply abandon all of your cultural history in the name of utility and modernity. If moving the seat of Parliament is truly desirable (see below) converting the old building into a museum makes a lot of sense. (See the Louvre.)

    2) Moving the seat of Parliament out of the London metropolis has superficial appeal, but unless you’re prepared to have a mobile government, moving every few years, a new metropolis will inevitably spring up around it. Any benefits from the move would quickly dissipate.

    3) That said, there is merit in the idea of separating the centers of political and economic power. Today they’re both in London. In the US they are divided between Washington and New York. Unfortunately, in our case the two cities are really too close together (a 2 1/2 hour train ride apart, or 30 minutes on the shuttle); for an effective separation of the two types of power they should be on opposite coasts. Milton Keynes is only an hour from London. Such a move seems pointless.

    4) I have a visceral reaction to any place with the word “Keynes” in its name. It is difficult enough to wean politicians off that man’s pernicious and fallacious economic doctrines; were his name to be enshrined in the very name of the seat of government all hope would be lost!

    5) If you do demolish the building be sure that the 1812 Overture is being played on all the loudspeakers.

  • Alisa

    What Laird said 🙂

  • Michael Jennings

    Personally, I think the Palace of Westminster is a particularly bombastic example of a certain 19th century style, but is ultimately rather architecturally undistinguished. The building may be famous, but I don’t think it is very good. I rather like St Stephen’s Tower and Big Ben, but I wouldn’t miss the Palace of Westminster itself. (My favourite building in London is St Paul’s Cathedral – a great masterpiece that is just as wonderful as anyone has ever said it is).

    Realistically, though, nobody is going to permanently move parliament to a new building or a different city. The question is how it is going to be refurbished. The need to refurbish the Palace of Westminster has been discussed in engineering circles for some time. I have seen numbers thrown around of the magnitude of£4bn if parliament abandons the building for a few years and £8bn if it is refurbished whilst being used. The choice is ultimately going to be between these things. Inevitably there are going to be cost overruns either way, and the sheer self-importance of MPs is going to mean that it is going to be refurbished in a very self-indulgent way. Rebuilding anything while it is being used is extremely hard (look at what is going on at London Bridge railway station for an example – I think the engineers there are actually doing a very good job, but there has still been a lot of disruption and complaints). If we can just manage to get the politicians to move out for a bit – that will be the best we can do, really. An obscene amount of money will still be spent.

  • Alisa

    If we can just manage to get the politicians to move out for a bit

    In the vain hope that they might forget to move back in?

  • Patrick Crozier

    “Realistically…”

    Language!

  • Michael Jennings

    When the Australian parliament moved from Melbourne to Canberra in 1927, a parliament building was built. The people in charge of this project foolishly referred to it as a “provision” Parliament House, with the idea that a grander “permanent” parliament building would be build at some point in the future.

    In the late 1970s, the building was running out of office space, as the number of MPs, ministers, and their staff had been steadily expanding. The debating chambers and other common spaces were perfectly adequate. There is no obvious reason why MP’s and minister’s offices needed to be in the main parliament building – Britain, the US and many other countries have other office buildings nearby for such purposes – so the very simple, perfectly adequate and relatively epensiv solution would have been to build a new office building nearby, perhaps connect it to Parliament House by a tunnel, and everything would have been fine.

    However, the self-importance of the MPs and the idea that the Bicentennial of Australian settlement in 1988 was an appropriate time for a “permanent” building, and took hold. A new building was commissioned, money was no object for such an important building, vast amounts of Italian marble were put on the floors. The building was supposed to cost $220 million 1980s dollars, but ended up costing $1.1bn. (As these projects go, a five times cost overrun isn’t really that bad, alas). Meanwhile, the old building has continued to sit there, and has had a variety of temporary uses. Due to its historical importance, the “some kind of museum” idea took hold there, too, although the building wasn’t designed as a museum. It’s presently being converted into an entirely unnecessary “Museum of Australian Democracy”. It’s all a shame really – it was a perfectly good Parliament House.

    In truth, restoring and upgrading the existing building in London is probably the best solution, just as long as you can get the politicians to vacate it for a while and just get it done. Allowing them a clean slate to get going with new delusions of grandeur anywhere is probably a bad idea.

  • Michael Jennings

    >Realistically

    Resignedly?

    I’m in favour of removing the obstacle preventing the connection of the Victoria and Chelsea embankments. You know that. I doubt this wonderful event will actually ever happen though.

  • Sam Duncan

    Further to Pete’s comment, when they set up the Scottish parliament there was an existing building in Glasgow – the former Strathclyde Region offices – which had plenty of accomodation, and a debating chamber large enough for the shiny new parliamentarians to use. But they refused, because, oh, it just has to be in Edinburgh.

    The irony being that when their new building, inevitably, missed its completion date and they were kicked out of their temporary home in the Church of Scotland’s Assembly Hall, they did use the Strathclyde building for a few months. And it was fine. But by then it was too late. (According to them, that is. They could have stopped throwing good money after bad and turned Holyrood into an adventure playground for kids, but no…)

    “Of course, there should also be means of push-button (electronic or computerised) voting from their seats”

    Hmm. Not sure about that. This video is about popular, not parliamentary, voting, but many of the same principles apply. With the lobbies, everyone can see who’s voting which way, reducing the potential for fraud. Yes, it takes longer, but sometimes doing things properly does take longer.

    I like the idea of moving it around, though. They could have a big tent, like the circus.

  • Patrick Crozier

    “…doubt…”

    Language!

  • James Hargrave

    Indeed, the original parliament building in Canberra is pretty good, and the debating chambers are small. Its successor… cavernous. Suggest that they fancy doubling their own numbers to give the merest pretence of the chambers being populated.

  • Stonyground

    “I like the idea of moving it around, though. They could have a big tent, like the circus.”

    How about something inflatable like a bouncy castle?

    Why are cost overruns considered to be inevitable in all of these government projects? Is it the fact that it is only other people’s money that is involved? I used to design and build industrial stapling machines. Potential customers needed to know how much the thing would cost up front and I used to tell them. The amount that they ended up paying was precisely what I said it would be. I knew how much the materials and components cost, I had a pretty good idea how long it would take to build the thing. So it was not that difficult to come up with a competetive price that would be agreeable to the customer and would make the company that I work for a profit. Had I screwed up and the product had ended up costing three times the amount that I said it would, my company would have lost money and I would have got a bollocking. If I made a habit of this kind of screw up I would have lost my job or would have been moved to doing something less difficult that I couldn’t mess up. Presumably, had I been bidding for a government contract, I could have quoted £500, Built the thing for £5,000, and then charged them 50,000, and everyone would have been perfectly happy.

  • ap

    Parliament should be on an storm-tossed island, accessible on a few days of the year.

    Britian doesn’t qualify?

  • nemesis

    I echo Stonyground’s comment: Why are there so many over-runs in time and budget? Should they not be subject to some sort of contract before they start?

  • Paul Marks

    The Palace of Westminster was, I suspect, undermined by the underground digging near by – that absurdly big Westminster Underground station for a start. The old smaller underground station was adequate especially as there are other underground stations within a few minutes walk.

    As for the comments of Patrick and others about replacing the building with “glass and steel” a “modern building” ad so on – well there is a modern building just over the road, it is so modern (and cost vast sums of money) that no one notices the place.

    But if anyone really does want to replace the Palace of Westminster with a “modern building” – I suggest you move to Scotland, the Scottish Parliament building would be more to your taste. The Progressive hatred for tradition, and all that is good, would be more to your taste also.

    There I did not lose my temper – Merit Mark for me.

  • Sam Duncan: “when they set up the Scottish parliament there was an existing building in Glasgow”

    There was also an existing building in Edinburgh, the old Royal High School on the Carlton Hill. In 1978-9, it was made ready to host the Scottish Parliament had the referendum vote sanctioned it then. The old prize-giving hall, with its painted ceiling, was to be the debating chamber – and met Churchill’s standards. Which was probably why it was not chosen two decades later.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Well, theoretically my opinion’s not supposed to count. (That’s others’ theory, not mine. 😉 .)

    But heck, I voted Brexit (so to speak); but here, I vote Remain.

    I think that Westminster is quite beautiful (from its pictures, that is). Even the photo here, which was apparently taken around dawn or sunset, so that everything is a little smog-coloured — although the picture’s not at all hazy.

    Tearing it down strikes me as both hubristic and philistine, not to mention somewhat insulting to the best parts of British history. Sort of like what certain of our Middle Eastern pals do to every architectural, non-Islamic building they can get their ruddy hands on.

    If you can shore up the foundations, perhaps re-wire, and paint the inside, and sandblast the outside…. Then yez can argue over whether to “modernize” the interior…. I wonder what would happen if we made it illegal to have air conditioning in all Federal buildings?

  • Michael Jennings

    No Mark, the Palace of Westminster’s problem have nothing to do with the tunnels or stations of the London Underground. The issues with the building are more long standing than that. The new station had little to do with parliament being nearby either. When the Jubilee line extension was built, the property developers developing Canary Wharf wanted a line from Canary Wharf to Waterloo via London Bridge. London Regional Transport (predecessor organisation to Transport for London) wanted the new line to also continue through central London. The solution was to connect it to the unfinished Jubilee Line, which had stalled when they ran out of money in the 1970s. For all these things to happen, the Jubilee Line had to cross the District and Circle Lines at Parliament Square, and a major interchange station was necessary for people to get on and off the line. The number of people who enter or exit at Westminster is much smaller than the number who simply change trains from one line to another. FWIW, in terms of design it is a very successful station as it is fairly easy to change from one line to another. Unlike, say, Green Park, which is hated by anyone who ever changes trains there.

  • Fraser Orr

    So many Yes Minister episodes come to mind…. this one for example:

    http://www.veoh.com/watch/v22895767W2Fmps77

    However, although I have never been to Milton Keynes (Which that banker guy in the aforementioned series thought was a compound of Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes…) however, I have been to another of those planned cities, Livingston in Scotland. In fact I used to work there. It is impossible to find anything in, and you drive down a major road, and it just stops.

    I worked with a gal who was daughter of one of the designers. I said to her “It looks like this road just stops, like they ran out of money or something.” She said, “Yeah, that is because when they were building it, they ran out of money.”

    But at least the trains run on time.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Why not just rotate the whole building across the river? You could build new bridges across the embankments, as well as bridges to the HoP!

  • William O. B'Livion

    Remember, remember the 5th of November…

  • David

    Livingston sounds just like Canberra here in Oz. Purpose built and now all they have to do is work out what the purpose was ’cause it sure as hell is not to provide efficient government for us.

    There was an excellent series on the Palace of Westminster shown down here called “Inside The Commons”. It served to show what a bunch of Wallies the Hon Members are so it is comforting/disturbing to realize that they are exactly the same a half a world away.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Tearing it down is indeed pure hubris, as another commenter has said.

    But the British people no longer deserve to enjoy such a beautiful bit of architecture in their capital and they no longer are willing to fight for what it represents.

    Tear it down and replace it with a Mosque.

  • polidorisghost

    Bit unfair on the inhabitants of Milton Keynes.

  • David

    Tear it down and replace it with a Mosque.

    May as well as I read that Chief Constable Thompson of the West Midlands Constabulary has decreed that female officers may wear the full face covering niquab.

    You have lost the plot up there.

  • Greytop

    In all fairness moving parliament out of London means most, if not all the UK government’s civil service departments will follow. No problem in one way as I am sure all sorts of well-paid people would love shorter commute times and cheaper house prices, for a time anyway.

    But the real problem is that without so much ‘UK’ there on the banks of the Thames then London will even more swiftly sink into a third world sh*thole. Quite simply, very few non-third-world people would elect to go there. Mind you, that would mean all the ‘let’s stay in EU’ fans in the capital would probably then leave, too.

  • Quite simply, very few non-third-world people would elect to go there

    Really? That must be some different London to the one I am in, as that London is overrun with expat Frogs, Yanks, Italians and Poles 😀

  • Greytop

    We may disagree on how many thirld-worlders are in London but it seems you agree, Perry, that there aren’t many Brits there.

    To be honest, as I only visit London occasionally it doesn’t make much difference to me how many of my fellow countrymen and women abide there. I am sure everyone in London is happy with how things are, and that’s all that matters.

  • We may disagree on how many thirld-worlders are in London but it seems you agree, Perry, that there aren’t many Brits there.

    Actually there are loads of Brits where I live (Notting Hill), they just tend to be reasonably wealthy ones.

  • Quentin

    Going back to the Palaces of Westminster, perhaps the most cost-effective solution might be to knock it down and rebuild it with the same iconic exterior?

  • At first I thought this was a satirical post. And then I read the comments.

    Yeah, why not destroy the symbol which for centuries has personified Britain’s foundation of representative government? After all, if it blocks the traffic…

    Symbolism is important. It’s a LOT more important than people realize — which is why when totalitarian governments take over, the first thing they do is tear down the old symbols and replace them with new ones. And given the size of the British economy, a couple billion in cost overruns amounts to a rounding error.

    I’ve read a lot of bullshit on this website over the years, but this post takes the golden banana. And shame on the British commenters who agree with its premise.

  • I’ve read a lot of bullshit on this website over the years

    Yeah me too, and you’ve written some of it. I do not think anyone is seriously thinking it needs to be ripped down, albeit it the symbolism of the place is far from all good.

  • Yeah me too, and you’ve written some of it.

    LOL Perry. I’ll cop to that.

  • …although I still think my long-ago suggestion that the entire Blair Cabinet be hanged from lamp posts has merit.