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John Cushnie, Gardeners' Question Time
"They're the most boring tree imaginable"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
MPs' fig tree flamboyancy
Portcullis House
Portcullis House has already gone over budget
MPs lucky enough to secure an office in the plush new Portcullis House building opposite the Palace of Westminster will find that no expense has been spared when it comes to flora and fittings.

It has emerged that 150,000 of taxpayers' money is being spent on 12 fig trees to adorn the central meeting place in the building's courtyard.

The decision to spend the kind of money a politician would pay for a one-bedroom flat in SW1 on a dozen plants will anger some MPs, many of whom have criticised the cost of constructing Portcullis House in the first place.

This might not mean they escape the wrath of frugal constituents, however, as the project's costings have been subject to parliament's approval.

Trees on hire

It has emerged the fig trees have not even been bought outright, but instead have been hired for five years.

And a good deal it is not.

John Cushnie from the BBC's Gardeners' Question Time told Radio 4's Today programme that "a whole forest" of fig trees would not be worth that much.

"To cost that amount of money [the species] would have to be so rare that I wouldn't even know about it.

"They're the most boring tree imaginable, they don't really flower ... the fruit isn't even edible," he said.

'Misinformation'

The trees are due to arrive via Belgium in the next few weeks.

But Sir Sydney Chapman, who chairs the accomodation and works committee which has overseen the building's budget, said he knows nothing about the fig tree plans.

"This has come out of the blue, and I think someone is sowing misinformation," he said.

He insisted the project had been "delivered on time and on budget".

Over budget

Some would not concur. Initially expected to cost 165m to build, the final figure is likely to be more like 235m, more than 1 million per MP housed there.

The building's bronze cladding alone cost 30 million.

Built to last 200 years, with bomb-proof walls and windows, it will house 210 MPs and their staff.

Oak-lined

The corridors are lined with oak, and the cloister-ceilinged offices come equipped with electric blinds, smoked-glass windows and a ventilation system which filters fresh air through the carpets.

Rather than normal air conditioning, Portcullis House has a cooling system which uses a deep borehole.

Liberal Democrat Norman Baker said of the latest disclosures: "This is so ridiculous it's obscene.

"Why on earth are they hiring trees? It just proves that the whole project has run out of control."

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