National Capital Authority expects Parliament expansion sooner rather than later

The National Capital Authority expects changes to increase the capacity of Parliament House. Photo: Glen McCurtayneOvercrowding and demand for parking at Parliament House will see the building expanded much earlier than planned, according to National Capital Authority boss Malcolm Snow.

Mr Snow said previously secret plans by the former Abbott government to extend the building had come as news to the authority when reported by Fairfax Media last month.

Some early discussions had taken place with the Department of Parliamentary Services about how growth in the number of political advisers and bureaucrats should be managed. Of particular concern is the need for more car parking.

Last month it was reported former prime minister Tony Abbott’s government had begun working on a plan for construction of two large extensions to the 25-year-old building. The new areas would have extended from the ministerial entrance at the south-west, across State Circle to two new uncovered car parks.

Another option to move ministerial offices out of the building temporarily to allow for a security upgrade was also considered. The Australian Financial Review reported funds had been set aside in the contingency reserve of the federal budget for the work, but the plans were dumped when Tony Abbott was removed as prime minister.

Mr Snow said the National Capital Authority had received some initial inquiries from the   DPS about capacity.

“We’re aware that new Parliament House is groaning at the seams, so to speak,” he said last week. “There has been a number of issues related to heightened and improved security arrangements and those are all things that did need our formal approval and we gave that.

“As for expansion, not specifically, no. We know also that there are issues around parking supply and we understand that in due course DPS will come to us to seek our views about the options they have about that particular matter.”

The National Capital Plan makes specific provisions for extensions.

It says expansions to accommodate growth in the working population of Parliament must be directed into the two existing car parks located either side of Federation Mall, between East Block and West Block. Any new buildings should be three storeys and include multi-level basement car parking.

Mr Snow said the sites had long been reserved for expansion.

“It’s a question of when, and if, Parliament House does need to provide further accommodation, that those areas for it to expand to, to accommodate any media centre are already designated.

“It is other pressures related to parking that are of particular concern at the moment, and I know they are working through a series of options and will ultimately come to us because they will need planning approval from the NCA to proceed.”

“You only have to go up to the building to see what’s happening, there are a lot of people having to be accommodated, the growth of ministerial staff, the number of staff in DPS itself, the number of visitors, the growth of the media accommodation,” Mr Snow said.

A  DPS spokeswoman said planning and a tender process currently under way would focus on the next 25 years of demand in the building.

“We have just commenced work on the strategic planning and have not yet determined what the options might be. This work will take several months.”

Security upgrades following the 2014 attack on the Canadian Parliament will cost about $200 million. Previously additions include a $14.5 million situation room, added to the building during the Rudd government.

Parliament House routinely has about 3000 people working inside, with thousands more on sitting days and as many as 890,000 visitors each year.

Newly appointed Department of Parliamentary Services secretary Robert Stefanic begins work this week.

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