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High speed Commons relocation to Birmingham – just the ticket for HS2

High speed Commons relocation to Birmingham – just the ticket for HS2

🕔08.Sep 2016

MPs will have to move out of the Houses of Parliament for at least six years while the decaying Victorian buildings undergo a £4 billion restoration programme. And it will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that MPs are intent on remaining in London.

It is likely that the House of Commons will decamp to the Department of Health building in nearby Whitehall, while the House of Lords will slum it in the QE Conference Centre off Parliament Square.

Suggestions that something rather more radical might happen, dare we say it moving Parliament out of London to the Midlands, even to the north of England, or heaven forbid to the West Country, have been rebuffed by the Government and most MPs on the grounds that, well, such a venerable institution must remain in the Capital.

Dudley MP Ian Austin became the latest person to suggest MPs “get out into the real world” and move to the Midlands. Reasonably enough, Mr Austin has suggested the Edwardian splendour of Dudley Council House as a possible venue.

“It would be much easier for most MPs to get to and it would enable ministers and the metropolitan elite running the civil service to find out what life is like for the rest of us,” he told the Commons.

Chamberlain Files, in an attempt to be helpful, has devised a cunning plan to help Parliament cope with the coming disruption. Work on restoring the Houses of Parliament is due to begin in 2022, and as everyone knows four years later the HS2 high speed rail service between London and Birmingham will be up and running.

How sensible would it be, therefore, to delay the exit from Parliament until 2026 which would enable London and south-east based MPs to catch a high speed train and reach Birmingham in just 49 minutes, or Birmingham International in little more than half an hour, where several eminently suitable temporary homes are available.

Here are just a few possible locations for the House of Commons:

Birmingham Town Hall

Opened in 1834 this stunning Grade 1 listed building has almost as much history behind it as the House of Commons. The epicentre of local government municipalism under Joseph Chamberlain, visited by world leaders for a century or more, the main hall has space for 1,000 guests which would provide amble room for 650 MPs. Even better, there are bars and plenty of nearby restaurants, which should appeal to our lawmakers. And it’s a five minute stroll from the planned Birmingham Curzon HS2 station.

Birmingham Council House

This is a win-win situation for the Government and the city council. Austerity budgets have more than halved the size of the council workforce since 2010 with the result that the vast Council House is half empty. MPs could move in while the remaining council staff move out to modern offices, or even work from home. The rent the Government would have to pay to hire the Council House would go some way towards offsetting the council’s dire financial problems.

The International Convention Centre

Here is a location that is already familiar to Conservative MPs. The party’s conference is back in Birmingham next month. There is plenty of space for a debating chamber as well as committee rooms. The bars and eating places of Brindleyplace surely rival the Westminster offer. Naturally the NEC Group, the venue’s private owners, might have something to say about losing the ICC for a few years and a suitable compensation package would have to be negotiated.

The National Exhibition Centre

A few minutes’ walk from Birmingham International railway station and close to Birmingham Airport, the connectivity of the NEC for a re-sited House of Commons could hardly be bettered. The cavernous exhibition halls would provide ample space for MPs and administrative staff, although the recently re-opened Genting Arena and the casino at Resorts World Birmingham could prove something of a distraction. The NEC’s long term refurbishment plans might benefit from leasing halls to Parliament.

Birmingham University Great Hall

The university’s publicity speaks of “an elegant entrance space, marvellous domed ceiling and an opulent marble foyer and rotunda” and says “this breath-taking venue is sure to wow your guests upon arrival”. It has to be a better bet than the rat-infested Houses of Parliament. The Great Hall can accommodate up to 1,000 delegates, so there would be plenty of space for MPs. This would be good news for Birmingham taxi drivers too, as MPs would have to travel from New Street to the university, although there are of course buses.

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