Document 1246

Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: RN 99-11 The Holyrood building project

Author(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

Copyright holder(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body: © Scottish Parliamentary copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Queen's Printer for Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.


Research Note 99/11
15 June 1999


The Parliament is due to debate the future of the Holyrood project on Thursday 17 June. A paper circulated to all Members on 9 June by the Presiding Officer explained the current state of the project and alternatives.

This Research Note should be read in conjunction with that paper. (1) The focus here is on the history of the project and its management and on the project’s costs.


The Government’s requirements for a Scottish Parliament building were stated in the White Paper on devolution.

“The building the Scottish Parliament occupies must be of such a quality, durability and civic importance as to reflect the Parliament’s status and operational needs; it must be secure but also accessible to all including people with special needs; it must promote modern and efficient ways of working and good environmental practice.

It will be an important symbol for Scotland. It should pay tribute to the country’s past achievements and signal its future aspirations. It must be flexible enough to accommodate changes over time in operational requirements. Quality and value for money are also key considerations.

The accommodation must allow Scottish Parliamentarians and their staff to work efficiently harnessing the best of modern technology. People must be able to see and meet their elected representatives and to watch the Scottish Parliament in operation. Provision needs to be made to permit easy reporting and broadcasting of Parliamentary proceedings so that people throughout Scotland can be aware of its work and decisions.” (2)

Scottish Office ministers retained control of the project until responsibility was transferred to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body on 1 June 1999. While, within the timescale they implemented, Scottish Office control was inevitable until the formation of the Parliament, ministers recognised a future role for MSPs. In a House of Lords debate on the Parliament site, Lord Sewel, a junior Scottish Office minister, said:

“We are embarking on a new venture and we must allow for the fact that those leading the venture – that is, the elected members of the parliament – will want to influence the outcome” (3)

Of course, it could be argued that the ability to influence the outcome is insufficient, and that the timescale might better have been delayed to enable MSPs to determine the outcome.

During the same debate, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon (Con) commented

“I venture to suggest that another option ought to be considered; namely, to wait until the parliament is up and running before any final decisions are taken, certainly so far as concerns the overall design of the building.

Much was made during the referendum campaign--and understandably so--of how this would be a new form of parliamentary assembly which would evolve new techniques for dealing with parliamentary business. […] If that is correct, it seems to me that there would be great value in waiting to see what those procedures are, how the committee structure evolves and what role non-members of the parliament are to have in the work of committees. There are also less important matters, such as whether members will wish to dine together or separately to be considered. Indeed, various aspects of the functioning of the building ought to be put into the design and construction of the new building that will be required. […]

I hope therefore that if my understanding of the position is correct, the Government will at least give some consideration to this fourth option of deferring any final decision until the parliament has been elected. That is not to suggest that work should cease. Clearly much work could be done in the interim on issues of land ownership, planning and the traffic management of the various designs that are being submitted. But, ultimately, I believe it is for the members of the new parliament to decide what building they wish to occupy and in particular what design it should have. Normally if people are buying a house or moving into new offices, it is they who take the important decisions rather than others on their behalf. I suggest that there might be some prudence in following such a course notwithstanding the importance of the decisions which lie ahead.”

Jonathan Glancey, architecture critic for The Guardian went further, referring to the relationship between buildings and organisational culture

“The odd thing here is that the new parliament will be forced into the spatial and emotional bounds of a building commissioned before has had time to develop its own distinctive culture. Surely it would have been more sensible to have housed the new assembly in an existing building and to have seen in a year or two’s time what sort of new building would best meet the needs, aspirations and style of the new parliament.” (4)

His arguments hark back to Winston Churchill’s comment during the debate on post-war rebuilding of the House of Commons:

“We shape our dwellings and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” (5)


The initial assessment of sites for the Parliament launched in November 1997 (6) covered three alternatives; St Andrew’s House and surrounding buildings on Calton Hill, and brownfield sites in Leith and Haymarket. The Holyrood site was added to the shortlist in December7, once it became clear that Scottish and Newcastle plc – the owners of the land - could vacate in time for construction to complete.

The design feasibility studies produced later in December 1997 showed that all four sites could accommodate a Scottish Parliament building. Consultants advised that conversion of St Andrew’s House would cost around £65m and that building costs for a new building on any of the other sites would be around £50m. The Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, identified three reasons behind the selection of Holyrood in January 1998 (8)

• The opportunity a purpose-built parliament offered to make a statement about Scotland’s future
• Its city centre location
• Its historical links.

None of the other sites was seen as offering all of these advantages.


After selection of the Holyrood site the process of selecting an architectural design team began later in January 1998 (9). A selection panel, chaired by Donald Dewar (10), received seventy applications and reduced these to a shortlist of twelve (11) through consideration of applications and to five through interviews with the twelve shortlisted teams. The five teams invited to submit detailed design concepts were

• Rafael Vinoly (New York) and Reiach & Hall (Edinburgh)
• Michael Wilford (London)
• Richard Meier (New York) with Keppie Design (Glasgow)
• Enric Miralles Y Moya (Barcelona) and RMJM (Scotland) Ltd (Edinburgh)
• Glass Murray (Glasgow) with Denton Corker Marshall International (Melbourne) (12)

There was some criticism at the time that the five design teams were ‘not Scottish enough’, and that Scottish architects had only been included in partnership of overseas firms. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland recognised that while “people would like to see 100 per cent Scottish practices there, […] the method of selection on track record was always going to go against the Scots”. (13)

Designs from each of the five teams were submitted to the selection panel and put on public exhibition in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dumfries, Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee and Selkirk during June 1998. Judgement by the selection panel was on the basis of recognition of the building user brief, content and quality of designs and of presentations made to the selection panel, understanding of the sensitivity of the Holyrood site, with the panel also taking into account public views expressed during the exhibitions.

The public consultation was generally well received, with the Royal Institute of Architects in Scotland encouraging members of the public to make their views known to the Scottish Office as part of an informed debate about the design process (14). Jonathan Glancey was, however, sceptical about the value of the public consultation at this stage, arguing that

“These [the architects’ outline designs] are hard for anyone but an architectural expert to comprehend. To put these on public display and to expect a full and proper discussion of their merits is like asking the public to choose between different designs of computer software. Outline designs are just that – suggestions of how a team of architects might go about the design of a building.” (15)

Whatever the merits of the exhibition process, some 5,000 people out of 35,000 attendees commented on the proposals. Rafael Vinoly’s designs were most popular, with 2 in 5 respondents expressing positive comment on them, compared with 1 in 4 favouring Miralles’ concept (16).

In explaining the panel’s eventual decision in favour of the Miralles team, Donald Dewar cited their appreciation of both his personal attitude and reputation and the quality of his proposals.

“Enric Miralles is one of the world’s most exciting and well respected architects. He impressed the panel with his energy, imagination and creative approach to designing a Parliament building within the World Heritage site at Holyrood. The panel liked the sensitivity and scale of his initial ideas which provide a blueprint for an exciting new building at the foot of the Royal Mile that sits well with the spectacular backdrop of Holyrood Park and Salisbury Crags.

Mr Miralles demonstrated great enthusiasm for the project. He is planning to postpone many of his international commitments and base himself in Edinburgh during the further design and construction stage of the Parliament building.

The panel were also impressed with Mr Miralles track record of translating innovative designs into practical buildings that work as demonstrated in his internationally acclaimed work in Barcelona, Alicante and Utrecht. The association with RMJM (Scotland) Ltd will ensure that a Scottish perspective is maintained in developing the initial design ideas into a building that is both aesthetically pleasing and a functional working environment for Scotland’s Parliament.” (17)


The first mention of the costs of a Parliament building project was in the July 1997 devolution White Paper. Here, the Government referred to a range of costs between £10 million and £40 million, without stating exactly what these costs intended to cover (18). Since then there has been widespread misunderstanding about the costs of the Holyrood project and alternatives. In particular, popular references to ‘soaring’ costs have been based on comparison of different sets of costs.

The independent cost consultants’ report on the construction of a new building at either Holyrood, Leith or Haymarket estimated that the basic construction costs (that is, the costs of simply constructing a building exclusive of site acquisition, fitout, VAT, contingencies, fees and furniture) would be around £50m (19) (Donald Dewar had, in fact, previously cited the reports as suggesting construction costs within a range of £50m to £65m (20)). The £50m figure remained the best available estimate as late as April this year (21). By the end of May, however, further consideration of building designs enabled consultants to refine their estimate of construction costs. Their conclusion was that construction costs would now be an estimated £62m. The increase is attributed to three main factors:

• An increase in the building area from 16,000 m2 to 23,000 m2 accounts for around £4m of the increase. The increase in space is largely to accommodate an increased number of Parliamentary staff. Original plans were for around 200 staff (22), while the Parliament currently employs 321 staff. The increase is largely attributable to Consultative Steering Group recommendations on the role of committees and the number of staff needed to support them
• The Miralles’ design requires a greater degree of circulation space than envisaged in the original building user brief (35% compared with 17%). This accounts for about £6m of the increase
• The design team has identified a need for a ‘formal’ entrance to the Parliament buildings to meet both aesthetic and operational considerations. This adds about £2m.

In addition to the increases in construction cost estimates identified as the design process developed, separate cost estimates for other elements of the project have been released. These raise the latest total cost estimates to £109m. This figure compares, not with the original construction costs estimate of £50m, but with a total cost estimate compatible with those estimates of £90m. Total figures are shown in Table 1.

[NOTE: Table 1 here in original]

The breakdown of costs between fees, VAT (on construction and fees) and contingencies is regarded as commercial confidential. The answer to a recent Westminster PQ (23) showed, however, that within the original estimates, fees were estimated at £10.5m, VAT at £10.6m and contingencies at £6m.

The increases in cost will have to be met from the budget available to the Scottish Executive. Current provision for capital expenditure on the Scottish Parliament is £28m in 1999/00, £44m in 2000/01 and £11m in 2001/02 (24). The latest cost estimates imply both an increase in spending to £33m this year and a need for the Parliament to consider how extra costs might be met in future years.


Comparisons between the costs of different public buildings are problematic. Different buildings serve vastly different functions, and few are built to the scale and complexity of the Holyrood buildings. In addition, the available information on other public buildings does not contain sufficient detail to enable the accuracy of any comparisons to be checked.

Nevertheless, Donald Dewar is quoted as comparing the cost of the Holyrood project favourably with the costs of Portcullis House, the new accommodation block for Westminster MPs (£250m (25)), the Millennium Dome (£800m) and the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (£40m) (26). Costs for Holyrood also appear to compare favourably with those reported for the new parliamentary building for the European Parliament in Strasbourg (£260m (27)) and the rebuilding of the Reichstag (£200m (28)). All such comparisons, however, should be treated with great caution.

1 See also the Holyrood module of the Scottish Office’s devolution website, and the Parliament buildings section of the Parliament’s website
2 Scotland’s Parliament (Cm 3658) paras 10.2 to 10.4
3 HL Deb 12 November 1997 c230
4 The Guardian (G2) 22 June 1998 “The nation decides: or does it?”
5 HC Deb 28 October 1943 c403
6 Scottish Office News Release 1655/97 Henry McLeish names consultants for Scottish Parliament site selection work
7 Scottish Office News Release 1960/97 Holyrood site added to Parliament short list
8 Scottish Office News Release 0029/98 Scottish Parliament to be built at Holyrood
9 Scottish Office News Release 0127/98 Secretary of State gets design for Scottish parliament building underway
10 Other members were Professor Andy McMillan of the Mackintosh School of Architecture; Joan O’Connor, former president of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland; Kirsty Wark; John Gibbons, chief architect at The Scottish Office; and Robert Gordon, head of The Scottish Office Constitution group.
11 See Scottish Office News Release 0639/98 for details of shortlisted applicants
12 For further details, see Scottish Office News Release 0929/98
13 Cited in The Scotsman 4 April 1998 “Parliament design list under fire”. See also The Times 19 June 1998 “Hot air rises over Holyrood”
14 See news section of RIAS website
15 The Guardian (G2) 22 June 1998 “The nation decides: or does it?”
16 Scottish Parliament Website
17 Scottish Office News Release 1389/98 Architect chosen to design Scottish Parliament
18 Scotland’s Parliament (Cm 3658) para 10.6
19 Scottish Office News Release 0029/98 Scottish Parliament to be built at Holyrood
20 Scottish office News Release 2110/97 Dewar takes Parliament information to the people
21 HC Deb 13 April 1999 c184w
22 Explanatory Memorandum to the Scotland Bill Page xi
23 HC Deb 31 March 1999 c776w
24 Serving Scotland’s Needs (Cm 4215) Table 13.1
25 HC Deb 8 February 1999 c12-13w. The building will provide accommodation for 205 MPs.
26 The Herald 10 June 1999 “Decision time on price of Parliament”
27 Current estimate of 400 million Euros converted at current exchange rates. HC Deb 15 February 1999 c585-6w
28 Budget for total costs DM 600 million converted at current exchange rates. Bundestag website

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Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: RN 99-11 The Holyrood building project


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