The UK’s iconic Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament, risks a possible "catastrophic event" without an urgent £4bn refurb, and MPs and Lords should move out to let builders do the job, a report warns today.
Politicians should work elsewhere for six years to allow for a comprehensive reworking of the 19th Century building’s vast network of electrical and mechanical systems, many of which date back to the 1940s and are no longer fit for purpose, a senior parliamentary committee says.
While the danger is not structural, the building "faces an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore," says the report.
"It is impossible to say when this will happen, but there is a substantial and growing risk of either a single, catastrophic event, such as a major fire, or a succession of incremental failures in essential systems which would lead to Parliament no longer being able to occupy the Palace."
The report’s authors want MPs to "decant" to the nearby headquarters of the Department of Health, and for Lords to set up house in the QEII conference centre.
MPs and Lords would have to agree, but their colleagues on the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster warned them not to dither over the decision, saying work, estimated to take about six years, should start in 2023.
A delivery authority to prepare the budget should be formed, the report said. Then a detailed preparatory stage must take place to make sure plans were cost-effective.
The committee favoured a full move-out over other options, such as a partial move out, which would take 11 years and cost £4.4bn, or allowing MPs and Lords to stay, which would cost £5.7bn and take 32 years.
Most of the palace visible today was built after a major fire in 1834, but it incorporates parts of medieval buildings that survived the fire.
The report said that parts of the Palace are so riddled with water corrosion, asbestos, frail stonework and ageing electrics and wiring, that it could soon become "uninhabitable" and would be knocked down if it was not protected.
"Although the building is formally designated as a Royal Palace, those who work in it will be all too familiar with stories of flooding, power failures, fire hazards, freezing-cold rooms in the winter and boiling-hot offices in the summer," said the report’s summary.
Image: Most of the palace visible today was built after a major fire in 1834, but it incorporates parts of medieval buildings that survived the fire (DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)