Mother of all refurbs?

According to reports over the long weekend (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19386492) House of Commons officials have floated the idea of moving Parliament to a temporary home so that essential repairs can be done to the Victorian premises.

One option is to use the nearby Queen Elizabeth II conference centre across Parliament Square. According to reports, the work could take up to five years at a cost of £3bn. Much of the building dates from the 1840s and ‘50s and anyone who has visited will know that many of the services are outdated. Asbestos is also a problem.

Facilities managers understand how much easier it is to carry out major refurbishment without trying to work around occupants.

But there is opposition. One senior MP who sits on the House of Commons commission (responsible for the administration and services of the House) is quoted as saying: “I would not be happy to have other options closed down just because it suits some building manager to close down parliament.”

But what an opportunity – not only to improve the functioning of the Parliamentary estate but to experiment with new ways of working for MPs and Parliament. Opinion is divided on the architectural design of Portcullis House but it undoubtedly provides better facilities for MPs and support staff. Other parliament and assembly buildings such as the Reichstag in Berlin, the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood or the Greater London Assembly down the river at Tower Bridge have opened up the functioning of democracy to electorates.

Why not hold a competition to design the temporary facilities and, in an age of coalition politics, perhaps move away from the adversarial layout of the Commons?

A visit to the Olympic Park

Now and again everything falls into place. Sunday was one of those times, as we visited the Olympic Park on the second day of the London 2012 Games.

Short drive to Ebbsfleet International station to pick up the High Speed Javelin train – 10 minutes to Stratford International. Short walk through Westfield shopping centre to the Olympic Park entrance.

Admittedly there was nothing on in the main stadium, so no surges of spectators to deal with but the marshalling and security (army personnel) were friendly and efficient.

The Olympic Park looks wonderful. I visited it just over a year ago and it was great to see how the landscaping and planting has matured – helped no doubt by the record-breaking wet weather!

We didn’t have tickets for an event, so spent the day wandering along the waterways, watching the big screen and soaking up the atmosphere, with the odd bit of retail therapy thrown in.

The infrastructure seemed to cope well although as the Park got busier long queues formed for the official merchandise shops and the mega MacDonald’s outlets.

Perhaps realising that they couldn’t shelter everyone from the British summer, the venues planners offered virtually no protection from the rain at all. At one point footpaths by the water were temporarily closed because visitors were taking cover beneath the bridges! But this was a minor inconvenience and the mood of park visitors, event ticket holders, staff and volunteers was almost universally sunny.

If you can’t get to an event, then sitting on the lawns of the Olympic Park watching live on the big screen is surely the next best thing. We’ll remember cheering on Lizzie Armitstead to her cycling Silver Medal, as thunder echoed around London skies, for a long time.

Well done to all the construction professionals, facilities and support staff who made it possible.