The Palace of Westminster is crumbling. According to leading architects, the UNESCO World Heritage site, which contains the House of Commons and the House of Lords, now suffers from “extensive” stonework decay, leaking roofs and corrosion – and that’s just the beginning.
Dr Richard Ware, programme director for Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal, said yesterday that many of the palace’s features need “major renovation.”
“These include antiquated heating, ventilation, water, drainage and electrical systems combined with extensive stonework decay, leaking roofs, corrosion and the need to improve fire containment,” Ware said, adding, “Even the intensive programme of urgent repairs carried out over the last five years is barely scratching the surface.”
To be sure, despite minor repairs made in recent years, the Grade I listed Palace of Westminster has not been fully restored since 1834, when the so-called “Old Palace” was destroyed by a fire. Now a new independent report carried out by experts from Deloitte’s real estate division says that it could cost nearly £6bn to fix nearly two centuries’ worth of damage.
The report, commissioned by parliament and conducted with architecture firms AECOM and HOK, presents three possible timelines for repairs, all assuming a 2020 start date.
The first, a rolling programme of works that would allow MPs and Lords to stay on-site throughout, would take 32 years and cost an estimated £5.7bn.
One less costly option would be an 11-year partial move-out, during which the House of Commons and the House of Lords would take turns relocating while works were ongoing. The report says that plan could cost up to £4.4bn.
A third, even less-expensive choice, would be to fully vacate the Palace for six years, with both Houses returning upon completion. Deloitte says that plan would carry a £3.9bn price tag.
The report did not formally back any one scenario. A joint committee including members of both houses of parliament is expected to make a final decision on the course of action.
“It is clear from this report that Parliament is faced with some difficult choices,” Ware said.
Many MPs have already said that they oppose relocating from the palace, let alone leaving London. But that has not stopped speculation that parliament may have to decamp to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster or the Olympic Park media centre in east London, or even further north to the Birmingham Library or Manchester Town Hall.
The Palace of Westminster up close
Q&A: Westminster Palace revamp explained
Q In how bad a shape is the Palace of Westminster and what needs work?
A The building hasn’t undergone any restoration work since a fire in 1834, and is in severe state of disrepair, with asbestos in much of the building and leaking roofs. But the biggest work will be to the “mechanical and electrical infrastructure.”
Q What are planners proposing, and how much will it cost?
A The longest and most-costly option would be to restore the building with staff staying on site, which would cost £5.67bn and take 32 years. The fastest option would be a full move-out, costing £3.5bn and taking an average of six years.
Q When is work likely to start?
A 2020. But it is likely to be later, as temporary offices need to be found to house 4,000 staff.