A multi-billion pound renovation of Parliament has moved a step closer after legislation was tabled by the government.
Efforts to safeguard the historic Palace of Westminster have been given fresh impetus by the devastating blaze at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris last month.
MPs from all parties have voiced fears of a similar tragedy unfolding at Westminster because of the state of the 19th century building and the high risk of fire.
Some 66 incidents with potential to cause a serious fire have been recorded since 2008, with antiquated safety systems requiring round-the-clock patrols to spot signs of a blaze.
Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, said: “Events like the terrible fire at Notre-Dame bring home to us sharply the importance of preserving our historic buildings.
“The Palace of Westminster, recognised the world over as a symbol of democracy, must be restored for future generations.
“This bill ensures the vital work needed to protect its future will happen in the most efficient way with the expertise we need, proper structures in place and making sure we deliver the best possible value for taxpayers’ money.”
The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill will set up a governance structure for the £4bn project, which mostly involves getting rid of ageing pipes and wiring and replacing them with safer and more modern facilities.
A sponsor body comprised of MPs, peers and external members will act as the client for the work, on behalf of parliament.
A delivery authority, similar to the organisation created to deliver the 2012 London Olympics, will carry out the renovation and be overseen by the sponsor body.
Recruiting for the delivery authority can start once the bill passes its second reading in the Commons, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks.
Then the body can start working on a business case, which will include the full details of the works and costings, to be signed off by MPs in 2021.
At some point in the mid-2020s, MPs are expected to be “decanted” to Richmond House, the former home of the Department of Health. The Lords will move to the Queen Elizabeth II Centre on Parliament Square.
The project is pencilled in for completion early in the following decade.
The bill will also set up a cross-party Estimates Commission of MPs and peers to scrutinise the sponsor body’s spending plans in conjunction with the Treasury.
There is a consensus that action is needed to safeguard the historic building, but there has been years of wrangling over the process and cost.
Sources close to the project have indicated that millions could be saved if the Ministry of Defence drops its objections to the use of its car park by contractors carrying out the work.
Gavin Williamson, who recently resigned as defence secretary, had been accused of blocking the refurbishment by refusing to support an arrangement for the car park to be occupied during the construction of a stand-in Commons chamber in neighbouring Richmond House.
It is understood Mr Williamson raised national security concerns over a crisis command bunker underneath the area affected.
Ms Leadsom told a parliamentary committee earlier this year that taking the car park out of the plans would result in a “significant cost” – reportedly around £100m.
There are now hopes that the dispute could resolved, which would potentially bring forward the project’s completion by as much as two years.