Renovating Westminster Palace

Westminster Palace

This time last year alarm bells were ringing in Westminster over the £1bn cost for the proposed renovation of the palace. Today, however, those bells are surely ringing off the wall at the claim that this figure could actually be triple the estimated initial amount

There are no arguments as to whether the renovations works are essential or not. Last year an architect with in-depth knowledge of the estate was quoted: “Bits of the buildings are now literally falling off.”

This historic building, which is home to the law makers of our state and one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country, has been thoroughly neglected over the years. There have been no general renovation since the repairs to wartime damage in 1945-50. As of 2012, one view of  historians was that: “If the palace were not a listed building of the highest heritage value, its owners would probably be advised to demolish and rebuild.”

The initial report carried out by Dr Richard Ware found that the basic utilities within the building, such as electricity, water and sanitation, were functioning, but with ‘increasing difficulty’. There has been asbestos discovered throughout the palace and the original roofs are the cause of leaking and major damp throughout.

With the discussions still taking place about how to actually manage the renovation, it was reported last week that in early 2016 MP’s will be given the option of choosing whether to:

  • Construct a temporary Parliament at the cost of around £7m
  • Carry out the repairs whilst ‘the House continues to sit’ – which estimates say could take up to 50 years!

Among the suggestions of where to actually move the Commons are:

  • Birmingham
  • The Olympic Village in East London
  • To a site nearby, possibly in the shadow of the Big Ben clock tower or across the road to the QE2 Conference Centre.

There are rumours that MPs have already rejected the option of moving out of the palace altogether, and constructing an entirely new parliament building somewhere else in London, but until we see signs of anything else, we are all none the wiser.

Whichever option the MPs decide on, it seems likely that work won’t begin until 2020, as the scale of the problem and the extent of the work needed to renovate this magnificent building is immense. As Dr Ware told Newsnight:

“If nothing was done, politicians and staff would end up ‘working in a ruin.’ We’re moving backwards, the building is getting older, faster than we can deal with it. The building is on borrowed time, and if we don’t act soon we won’t have a choice.”

There is one thing that everyone is in agreement about: that this truly epic building, which is as synonymous with England as red phone boxes, black taxis and furry hatted soldiers must be restored, whatever it takes.


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