WESTMINSTER’S extensive £4 billion restoration and renewal programme, the largest of its kind ever proposed in the UK, could fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.

The new management “Sponsor Body” has today announced it is to review the proposals in light of the “completely altered political and economic landscape”.

Last month, the National Audit Office[NAO}, the UK Government’s value-for-money watchdog, urged managers to take a firm grip of the project; the budget for Big Ben’s construction alone has risen by almost 180 per cent.

Parliament’s floor plan is the size of 16 football pitches with 1,100 rooms, 100 staircases, three miles of passageways, four floors and 65 different levels.

Many features have not been renovated since the palace was built in the 19th century. The renovation team believes the longer the essential work is left, the greater the risk of a catastrophic failure from fire, flooding or falling stones.

All the fire, heating, drainage, mechanical and electrical systems need replacing. Steam pipes run alongside electrical cables and the sewage ejector system installed in 1888 is still in use today. Since the start of 2017, more than 40,000 problems have been reported.

The backlog of repairs is estimated at £1bn.

The renovation team pointed out how the NAO report had highlighted the critical need for consistent political support.

It said: “The House of Commons now contains many new members elected for the first time, who may well take a different view of restoration and renewal from members in 2016. It is also a very different Government which, even before the current crisis, had a clear set of priorities. In the light of Covid-19, there are likely to be other key drivers, arising mainly as a result of the impact on the economy, on public finances and on the population at large.

“Taking all these together, the review will provide decision-makers with a framework to determine how they wish to proceed.”

The review will consider the “trade-offs” between cost, timescales and scope that the UK Parliament would need to make to ensure “best value for money”.

In 2018, MPs voted to approve the renewal works; the £4bn price-tag was regarded as a “median” figure; some estimates put such a vast renovation project at the world heritage site at nearer £6bn.

In the past, builders have worked around the sitting of the Commons, working intensively during recesses. But rather than a partial decant of MPs and peers, it was decided politicians would leave en masse to a nearby building in Whitehall for at least six years. But this option will now form a key part of the review.

The Sponsor Body, which was formally established last month, is the single client accountable to Parliament and oversees a Delivery Authority, which will carry out the work.

It was always envisaged that when the Sponsor Body was set up in law, and the Delivery Authority established, certain aspects of the programme would be reviewed. “However,” said the restoration team, “given the completely altered political and economic landscape, the review will need to be both deeper and more wide-ranging.”

The new review will be led by Sarah Johnson, Chief Executive of the Sponsor Body, and will involve infrastructure and programme management experts drawn from it and the Delivery Authority.

She said: “The restoration and renewal of the Houses of Parliament will be the biggest and most complex heritage project ever undertaken in the UK, protecting one of the world’s most recognisable buildings and likely to support thousands of jobs across the country.

“The Sponsor Body has been set up to ensure that the project is delivered in the most efficient way that delivers value for money. It is entirely appropriate that we should pause at this time to consider the validity of recommendations made over five years ago before either the Sponsor Body or Delivery Authority was formed.

“The impact of the current health crisis on public finances and Parliament’s ways of working has made it even more essential that we review both the strategy for relocating the two Houses and the scope of the restoration of the Palace,” Ms Johnson added.

The review will consider and make recommendations on:

*whether the current solutions present value for money;

*what compromises would need to be made to save money;

*what opportunities exist for a simpler, quicker and cheaper temporary accommodation and

*how ways of working developed in response to Covid-19 affect options or requirements for temporary accommodation.

Under existing plans, the Commons is due to move to Parliament’s Northern Estate, occupying a new temporary chamber in Richmond House on Whitehall. The Lords is due to move temporarily to the QEII Conference Centre, opposite Westminster Abbey.

The Sponsor Body will submit its review to the “appropriate parliamentary authorities” in the autumn.