Home improvement is considered a bellwether of confidence by economists. If you're thinking about selling your home (and doing so for positive reasons, i.e trading-up), there is a good chance you'll invest some time and money to spruce it up first. Similarly, if you're not planning to move but have found your wages now go a little further, you may decide to invest the surplus in a lick of paint. Not only does this make you feel happier in your surroundings (increased utility, in economese) but it represents a form of saving because you are investing in an asset (in reality, paint adds nothing to a valuation, but we'll let that pass). So, how are we to interpret the uncertainty at Westminster as to whether they should repair the leaking roof and fix the dodgy wiring? If the economy really is looking up, surely George Osborne should be circulating swatches by now?
John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, reckons that it may cost £3bn to renovate and modernise the Palace of Westminster, and that decanting the Commons and the Lords may be unavoidable in achieving this. Some MPs espy bitter sarcasm in Bercow's claim, arising from their rejection of his nominee as Clerk of the Commons last year (he is pitching for both "management of the very highest quality and a not inconsequential sum of public money"), a highly amusing spat that was illuminated by the recent documentary series Inside the Commons. The implicit message is that the Palace faces a major challenge requiring project and change management expertise, rather than just an intimate knowledge of Erskine May and the ability to wear a periwig the right way round. He may well be right.
The Northern Powerhouse (TM) crowd see this as an opportunity to temporarily (or even permanently) relocate the chamber of the Commons to Manchester Town Hall, with this very act of displacement magically reviving democracy and causing our legislators to become sensitive to the needs of the hinterland. This ignores the fact that the Parliamentary Estate includes a number of other large buildings, notably Portcullis House and the two Norman Shaw buildings on Victoria Embankment, that are used as offices for MPs, support staff and select committees. You're going to need more than one spare Victorian debating chamber in the North, and you're also going to need temporary tenants for those other London buildings to defray their costs.
There is also the small matter of the executive, i.e. the ministry buildings along Whitehall, Victoria Street and Millbank. It would be impractical to have ministers shuttling to-and-fro on the West Coast line, and video-links would lead to the marginalisation of backbenchers and the select committees, so splitting the executive and the legislature looks unlikely to be acceptable to anyone. Given the cost and disruption, moving the entire government is a non-starter, no matter how much spare office space there may be at Salford Quays. In short, a move out of London simply isn't going to happen, which is probably why it's a favourite with media-chunterers. The preferred approach of the 2012 Parliamentary study on the issue would be for the Palace to be renovated in stages, with the core stage requiring a "decant" of the two chambers to nearby temporary facilities, such as the Methodist Central Hall or the QE2 Conference Centre.
The great unmentionable in all this is that roughly half of the Palace's space is dedicated to the House of Lords (or Peers, to be pedantic) and its various ancillary facilities, such as libraries, dining rooms and bars. There are roughly 800 peers (some are "on leave"), compared to 650 MPs. Though they attend less frequently than members of the Commons, and many do not have dedicated offices, the peers take up a lot of real estate. One solution to the problem would be to abolish the House of Lords. Though I'm not in favour of a second chamber, you could leave this open and suggest that a new body, however finally constituted, should be established elsewhere. Both Tamworth and Kenilworth have a certain historical plausibility, and an institution based in the Midlands would be one in the eye for the Northern Powerhouse (TM).
With the Lords gone, the decanting of the Commons would be a lot more straightforward. The entire Palace of Westminster could then be renovated. More importantly, it could also be remodelled. The issue with the building is not just that it needs to be patched up, but that it needs to be repurposed for the 21st century. One obvious improvement would be to move the Commons to the larger and even more venerable Westminster Hall, currently used for joint sessions and the occasional lying-in-state, which would mean that all 650 MPs could get a seat (the current chamber can only seat 427, though this could probably be increased if they knocked through the voting lobbies that flank the chamber and employed electronic voting instead). It's worth remembering that the chamber has moved before, having previously occupied the area of St Stephen's Hall (the current entrance corridor to the Central Hall) before the fire of 1834.
I don't claim to be an expert on the intricacies of the building and therefore what would be either feasible or most desirable, but it strikes me that the current Commons and Peers chambers (plus lobbies) could be converted to libraries, with the current libraries (which face South over the Thameside terrace) converted to offices. Of course, there is an argument that libraries full of old books that few people actually refer to are an indulgence (a Gigabit LAN would be of more value to MPs and their assistants), but I suspect the desire for some visibly antique "tradition", along the lines of the Bodleian or Trinity College, would win out. Alternatively, the chambers could be used for the more high-profile select committees (I'm sure Keith Vaz would love to lord it over the former Lords), or they could be given over to the commercial functions that seem to be increasingly central (and emblematic) to the Palace's purpose.
There is also an argument for converting the private chambers of both the Speaker and the Lord Chancellor to offices for MPs and committees. The Lord Chancellor is the "chairman" of the Lords, so would have no site-specific purpose post-abolition. The Speaker's chambers include an official residence. Though there is a rationale for being on-site - the speaker or deputy has to be in attendance at every session - I suspect a suitable bunk-up could be found somewhere else in the Borough of Westminster. Alternatively, if we went the full hog and abolished the Monarchy, I'm sure a grace-and-favour apartment in Buck House could be arranged.