Boris Johnson confirms plans for 'government hub' in York

PM says city should be in frame if Commons or Lords have to move during restoration work

Boris Johnson has confirmed that Downing Street is thinking of setting up a “government hub” in York, telling officials drawing up restoration plans for the Palace of Westminster that they should consider the city if the Commons or Lords have to be moved.

Restoration of the parliamentary estate, which is crumbling in many places and viewed as a significant fire risk, could cost an estimated £6bn, and the plans are still being debated.

In a letter to David Goldstone and Sarah Johnson, the parliamentary officials in charge of the plans, Johnson said a review of the process should consider whether the Commons and Lords should stay in place during the works or decamp elsewhere.

Some buildings in London have already been considered as temporary chambers, including Richmond House, a government building in Whitehall, and the QEII conference centre on the other side of Parliament Square.

In his letter, seen by the Guardian, Johnson also mentioned City Hall, on the south bank of the Thames, as a possible site. Last month the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, raised the idea of moving the mayor’s office to another building to cut costs.

Johnson wrote: “However, the review should also consider a possible location outside London. The government is considering establishing a government hub in York, and it would therefore make sense to consider this as possible location.”

He said the review should look into not just costs but also how the plans would affect parliament’s work, the timeline and “heritage benefits”. The views of MPs and peers “will need to be considered carefully”, he said.

Reports at the weekend said Downing Street was considering moving large numbers of civil servants outside London, with York named as a possible new “second city”.

It is not the first time the city has been mentioned in this way: in January, the government said that it was thinking about moving the House of Lords to York.

The choice of York as a non-London destination has raised some eyebrows, given that it is already relatively prosperous and has a compact historic centre and property prices that are above the regional average.

The decision over how to restore parliament has dragged on for some years, despite the high cost of maintaining the crumbling estate and the very real risk of fire in the Unesco-listed world heritage site.

A report on the process this year found that in the past five years alone, 29 incidents could have led to a fire.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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