The proposed multi-billion pound refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster presents a rare one-in-150 year opportunity to reform the leading institution of our democracy.
Why are we doing it?
The refurbishment programme is the nearest we will come to a blank-slate for redesigning Parliament and reforming the culture and practice of parliamentary politics.
But if the focus is solely on fixing the roof, re-wiring, removing asbestos and other essential repairs then a huge opportunity for change will be missed.
A joint committee of both Houses of Parliament is currently considering what should be done – in terms of decant options and the budget - but thus far there has been little consideration of the wider legacy opportunities that the restoration programme might deliver.
Our new ‘Future Parliament’ project will help fill that gap. As well as augmenting our existing body of work about reform of the scrutiny and legislative processes, and the role and work of MPs, we will be exploring new ideas in the physical, cultural and digital spheres to help Parliament build a rich legacy of democratic reform.
What will we be doing?
Through research and events we’ll be exploring key themes including:
Democratic space: spatial changes, even modest ones, can have a significant impact on the culture and working practices of an institution so how might Parliament benefit from thinking differently about its use of the estate? What principles should shape change and how might these be reflected in any redesign of the parliamentary estate? What are the opportunities to create new ‘democratic space’ for enhanced engagement with the public?
Future-proofing: the ways in which we communicate and work are changing, so how can the refurbished Parliament be fit for the next generation and beyond? And what can we learn from other parliaments and public and private institutions around the world about how to blend innovation with tradition?
Digital democracy: the pace of technological change is rapid but politics has struggled to keep up. Parliament now has an opportunity not just to catch up but to innovate and experiment – both in any temporary new facility and the refurbished building itself – so what might that involve?
A Place for People: A new vision for Parliament Square
The restoration of the parliamentary estate also provides an opportunity to take forward our proposals for improvements to Parliament Square.
The area is a living, working museum of democracy. Few areas of the world are so replete with historical, political, religious, cultural and architectural significance. Around the Square, through the history and workings of the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, the Supreme Court, and the buildings of Whitehall can be found our island’s democratic story. This nexus of Parliament, government, the church, and the courts is the constitutional heart of the nation.
Yet what should be one of the world’s greatest civic spaces is a noisy, polluted, inaccessible place, seething with traffic and pedestrians and pockmarked by fortress-like security. The overall effect is unwelcoming and contrary to the ideals that this public space could and should represent: a place of democratic assembly and engagement, citizenship and identity, celebration and national memory, congregation and reflection.
Our report, A Place for People, explores how a more coherent vision for this public space might be realised to provide an enriched, inspiring experience for all members of the public drawn to it. Our proposals include:
- Improved traffic management and pedestrianisation of Parliament Square
- A World Heritage Site visitors centre located in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre
- Using new technology, such as augmented reality, to enable people to see the past, present and future of the built environment. For example, bringing alive the development of Thorney Island, and recreating ‘lost’ features such as the River Tyburn and the sections of the Palaces of Westminster and Whitehall that have now vanished.
- A cultural and heritage corridor from Trafalgar Square to Tate Britain to relate our democratic story in an engaging and imaginative form as discerned through the mix of art, statuary and sculpture en route.