Buckingham Palace, the home of Queen Elizabeth II, has been judged to be in a terrible state of repair, and will undergo a 10-year, £369m overhaul to prevent the Sovereign having to move out.
Sixty-year-old wiring, sagging drain pipes, and ancient boilers are making the palace unliveable and raising the risk of fire, flood and damage to the fabric of the building, according to an official report.
In a move that has angered UK republican campaigners, the government today (18 November) gave the go-ahead for the works, to be funded by UK taxpayers, commencing April 2017.
The cash will come from raising the Sovereign Grant – the yearly allowance to the Queen paid by the British government – by 10% for the duration of the works. This will have to be approved by Parliament.
MPs have repeatedly called on the palace to fund repairs by opening up to tourists all year round and they’ve refused– Graham Smith, Republic Chief Executive
Announcing the decision, the UK Treasury said Parliament would hold the Royal Household to account throughout the process to ensure maximum value for taxpayers’ money.
The government said it wants to avoid a calamity similar to the fire that engulfed another royal residence, Windsor Castle, in 1992. That fire raged for nine hours and devastated large parts of the building. The restoration took more than five years, and it is estimated that similar damage to Buckingham Palace could cost up to £250m for a single wing.
Built in the 17th Century, Buckingham Palace is where the Queen carries out most of her official ceremonial, diplomatic and representational duties as Head of State and the Commonwealth.
More than 500,000 people visit the Palace during its summer opening, and millions of tourists stand at the gates to witness the Changing of the Guard throughout the year.
Politicians said the billions of pounds spent by tourists to the UK made upkeep of the palace worth the taxpayer money.
"Tourists are drawn to this country because of our culture, heritage and royal legacy, and when they visit they spend billions of pounds and support thousands of jobs," said Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke.
"We must ensure that the special architectural and historic nature of some of our greatest buildings are protected for future generations, therefore it is only right we ensure Buckingham Palace is fit for purpose."
Government said phased programme will be sequenced wing-by-wing to enable the Palace to remain occupied and fully operational, and allow the Queen to carry on with her official duties.
The decision to use taxpayers’ money angered anti-monarchy campaigners in the UK.
A group called Republic responded to the news by renewing calls for the Queen’s funding grant to be scrapped and Buckingham Palace "handed back to the people".
"This is an absolute disgrace. An indictment on the Queen’s scandalous mismanagement of royal finances over 6 decades," Republic’s CEO Graham Smith said in a statement.
He added: "MPs have repeatedly called on the palace to fund repairs by opening up to tourists all year round and they’ve refused. The obvious question is, why have the royals let it get into this state? Why haven’t they raised revenue through opening up all year round? If the royals can’t look after the buildings and raise their own revenue to fund maintenance it’s time to give them up."
The decision to refurbish the Palace comes as the UK government gears up for a multi-billion refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament, which are in similarly bad condition.
Image: More than 500,000 people visit the Palace during its summer opening (UK Government)