News on 27 February 2001

Portcullis House official opening

The Queen opens the new parliamentary building Portcullis House this morning as the Government attempts to counter what it describes as "recurring inaccuracies" in media reports regarding the building's cost, defects and facilities.

Portcullis House, designed by Michael Hopkins and Partners, provides much-needed additional facilities including: 210 new offices for MPs, two conference rooms, four Select Committee rooms and nine meeting rooms, restaurant, cafeteria, post office, vote office and 'e.library'.

MPs started moving in during September 2000 and occupation was completed at the end of last year. The building has been dogged by criticism that it is too expensive and too lavish. The Office of the Clerk has issued a point-by-point rebuttal of these accusations. On cost it says that unlike commercial projects, the quoted figure covers everything including furniture, consultants' fees and VAT.

The scheme was approved at £165m plus building cost inflation, forecast to give an out turn cost of approximately £227m. The delay in construction of the Jubilee Line extension added a further £10m to the forecast. The expected final cost is £230 - £235m, within budget.

Other reasons for the apparently high cost include the fact that the building is designed to last at least 120 years, four times the life expectancy of an average central London office block. Portcullis House has also been designed to use about a quarter to a third as much energy as a similar building of conventional design. It uses natural ventilation, makes maximum use of sunlight, fresh air, and the water in the aquifer deep under London.

Offices for 210 MPs, and at least an equal number of staff, are arranged mainly in 1:2:1 suites (MP: shared staff space: MP) on four floors. Most offices are 18 sq m in area, the same module adopted by the German Parliament for its new offices being built adjacent to the Reichstag.

Contrary to rumour, says the Office of the Clerk, the office chairs are not fitted with a 'snooze control'. Furthermore, the reception desk cost considerably less than £75,000, this was the cost of a 'package' of works and there is no marble in the building, just polished concrete.

Finally, the Office tackles the question of the fig trees: "The fig trees are neither dead nor dying, nor even unwell. They shed some leaves shortly after planting, while they were settling in, but are now producing abundant new growth. They are not affected by chlorine used in the water feature, as there is none."

Richard Byatt

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