Speaker backs new office block: 'Parliament should own its own premises'

Plans are afoot to revamp the parliamentary precinct, including a new office block to house MPs and staff.
CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ

Plans are afoot to revamp the parliamentary precinct, including a new office block to house MPs and staff.

Speaker David Carter is backing plans for a new building for MPs and parliamentary staff, saying Parliament should own the buildings it occupies.

The Government is expected to sign off on a major revamp of the parliamentary precinct before the ends of the year, including the option of a new office block to accommodate those currently in the 22-storey Bowen House on the corner of Bowen St and Lambton Quay.

The Bowen House lease expires at the end of 2018 and while a renewal is one of the options Carter said it was very expensive at an annual cost closer to $6m than $5m, and was leased from a foreign company.

"I have a very strong view Parliament should own its own premises."

READ MORE:
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Bowen House was first used in the early 1990s and had become a semi-permanent arrangement.

Carter favoured a new building that was cost-effective and would future-proof Parliament's accommodation needs for many years to come.

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A replacement would not be completed before the end of 2018, but in the interim Parliament could extend the Bowen House lease short term - though that was not an option Carter favoured - or "decamp" to another site.

A third option would be to refurbish the Bowen State building on Bowen Street, though the cost would rival a new build.

The new block would be built on land behind Parliament buildings, now used for car parking, and would include basement parks. 

There were height restriction on the site, especially close to the back of Parliament House, and the council protected the "view shaft" down The Terrace towards Parliament.

Carter also gave his personal backing to demolishing and replacing the nondescript Beehive annex, which currently houses the Press Gallery but was yellow-sticked as earthquake prone and required strengthening.

"Is it not wise to do something better? In my view yes." 

A replacement building would likely provide ministerial offices as a spill-over from the Beehive.

A spokeswoman for Parliamentary service said Cabinet had asked it to investigate "a number of options" and report back by the end of the year.

Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee and Carter have been sounding out other parties on their preferences with a proposal expected to be put to Cabinet for approval in November.

No final price tag has been put on the plan.

It is understood Opposition parties are keen on the new build option, but the Government was nervous of a possible public backlash.

In 1995 a proposal to put the Beehive on wheels and move it to the site of the planned new building, to allow Parliament Buildings to be completed with an East wing in line with its original 1911 plans, was scuppered after a public outcry.

It included a plan for a new office block, dubbed the "parliamentary palace".

The land cleared for that, by the demolition of Broadcasting House on Museum St, was now a public park and would likely not be touched by the latest plan.

Carter said the idea of moving the Beehive would not be revived and was not feasible, given the Civil Defence emergency bunker was underneath it.

 - Stuff

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