Should Parliament be moved to the North East?
It is a question that would have been laughed off in the past but, as author LP Hartley once wrote: “The past is a different country; they do things differently there.”
And there is a groundswell of opinion now that Parliament does things so differently there it is out of touch with the people it is supposed to represent.
The Palace of Westminster contains both the House of Commons and House of Lords and is usually referred to as the Houses of Parliament.
Built in the Middle Ages, it was demolished by fire in 1834 and rebuilt from 1840 to 1870.
But this vast Gothic structure is crumbling and to put it right would cost £3bn, according to the Commons Speaker John Bercow.
He warned this week it needed a massive repair and modernisation programme to ensure it remained safe and useable – otherwise, it could close within 20 years.
Speaking in Westminster, he said: “It will require bold, imaginative leadership to ensure we are a Parliament fit for purpose and this Victorian legacy can be rendered practical for contemporary representation.”
But other people have had bold and imaginative ideas for it of their own.
Campaign group Generation Rent say why not turn it into social housing - specifically 364 flats.
With the help of Jay Morton, an architect who specialises in social and affordable housing, they have even drawn up plans for the redevelopment.
The high ceilings of the Palace of Westminster will be converted into three-bedroom maisonettes to accommodate families, they suggest, while corridors will be transformed into one and two-bedroom flats.
The ground floor of the Grade I-listed building is set aside for communal facilities, such as a swimming pool and a library.
Additionally, selling “the prestigious riverfront offices” of Portcullis House – currently home to MP’s offices – could provide a tax windfall of up to half a billion pounds.
And the proposals include plans to relocate MPs and Lords to Hull.
This, says Generation Rent will save the taxpayer nearly £120m over a five-year parliament – and ease the problem of the lack of affordable housing in the borough of Westminster.
And if Ministers and Lords were moving out of Westminster, why not move them to Manchester, Birmingham - or the North East?
North East MP Kevan Jones said the thought of moving Parliament to north was “an interesting idea”.
However he added: “But I think if the public look at what the cost was it might think twice.”
Hilton Dawson of the North East Party said: “If they did move it here they wouldn’t get a better welcome in the country and will have the finest people to staff it.
“And I think you’d get a lot more for £3bn in the North East than in London.”
However he said a move from London to the provinces might not automatically help to connect politicians more with the people.
“I think it is the institutional structures rather than the actual location that matters,” he said.
“I really do think that what you need is a system of regional government and a system of devolution across the whole of the UK rather than simply trying to move the building.”
North East Chamber of Commerce policy and research manager, Mark Stephenson, said: “There is certainly an argument for moving some Government departments out of the capital and further north to regions such as the North East which enjoy greater capacity to cater for them.
“Devolution of powers could also provide regions with more say over how investment is prioritised in their respective areas and help Government to lower costs and improve efficiency.”
There are historical precedents for the moving of a country’s Parliament - the Bundestag in Germany was moved 350 miles from Bonn to Berlin after unification.
And as for moving large national institutions North, the BBC shifted from London to Salford. MPs mocked BBC executives who moaned about the move, so perhaps they could take such an historic shift on the chin with little complaint to show how it could be done.
Finally there is a recent example of the building of a new Parliament very close to home - Scotland to be precise. The final cost of £414m seems a snip compared to the projected costs of renovating the Palace of Westminster.