Consultation on temporary House of Commons chamber is ‘tokenistic’, say experts

  • Academics from the University of Sheffield’s Crick Centre call for a public statement explaining the logic behind the “near replica” design
  • “Patronising” consultation asks for the public’s views on trivial design features, but not the fundamental layout of the chamber
  • Experts demand design is replaced with a flexible approach, allowing MPs to try electronic voting and sitting in a semicircle

Temporary House of Commons chamber

Experts have labelled a public consultation on the design for a new temporary House of Commons chamber – where MPs will sit while the Palace of Westminster undergoes a programme of restoration and renewal – “tokenistic and superfluous”.

Responding to plans set out by the Northern Estate Programme (NEP), academics from the University of Sheffield’s Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics blasted the decision to build a “near replica” of the existing chamber.

The experts leading the Crick Centre’s Designing for Democracy project examining the Restoration and Renewal programme for the Palace of Westminster called on the NEP to explain the rationale behind the replica design in order to facilitate a “mature conversation” with the public about parliament and democracy.

The consultation asks members of the public for their opinions on relatively trivial aspects of the design, while failing to seek their views on the layout of the chamber itself – which experts and MPs have described as adversarial.

The academics demanded “a meaningful public statement [be] published that explains the logic on why the decision was taken to present the public with such a narrow engagement range that focuses on relatively minor issues (i.e. the design of railings and the provision of refreshment facilities) while offering no engagement on the fundamental design questions (i.e. the manner in which design shapes political behaviour).”

Today marks the deadline for responses to the public consultation on plans to deliver the accommodation necessary for the House of Commons to move out of the Palace of Westminster during the essential Restoration and Renewal Programme.

MPs and Peers voted in 2018 to leave the Palace for a number of years while essential works take place, and the urgency of the programme was highlighted by the devastating fire at Paris’s Notre Dame in April.

Professor Matthew Flinders from the University of Sheffield’s Crick Centre said: “With people’s confidence in politics at rock bottom, the Restoration and Renewal programme should be an opportunity for a public conversation about the state of our democracy.

“We’ve got reams of evidence showing that parliament’s dark, twisting corridors and confrontational debating chambers help to shape our exclusionary and uncompromising political culture.

“This tokenistic and superfluous consultation is deeply patronising to the public - offering them a chance to pick the railings in the temporary House of Commons, but dismissing their views on the future of our democracy.”

Dr Alexandra Anderson, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Crick Centre, said: “Designing a temporary House of Commons chamber is a chance to build the more transparent, inclusive and constructive politics we desperately need.

“The Northern Estate Programme could have drawn up a flexible design, allowing MPs to try sitting in a semicircle and experiment with electronic voting. Instead they have ignored experts and MPs and presented a near replica of the existing adversarial set-up.

“The NEP must remember that this project is about renewing our democracy – not just restoring our ancient parliament.”

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