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MPs Warn Parliament Risks Being Destroyed in ‘Catastrophic Event’ as Delays in Repairs Rumble On

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Parliament is spending £100 million a year – a staggering £2 million of taxpayers’ money every week – patching up repairs, while next steps on its renovation are still to be decided

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Parliament is at serious risk of being destroyed in a “catastrophic event” because of the failure for years to tackle the need to restore and renew its iconic home in the Palace of Westminster, a report by MPs warns today.

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has said there is broad consensus that the building needed major repairs for 25 years and procrastination on the project has now reached a stage where there is “a real and rising risk that a catastrophic event will destroy the Palace before it is ever repaired and restored”.

Labour’s Dame Meg Hillier, the committee’s chair, said: “Without Parliament and the public having that confidence these critical works will continue to stall, with the real risk that the whole building will be destroyed by a catastrophic incident before the work is done, or perhaps even begun.

“There are already people on decades-long risk watchlists after being exposed to asbestos in the building; a building that’s leaking, dropping masonry and at constant risk of fire.”

The scale of the problem is laid bare in the report. Every month, some 4,000 requests are made for repairs and maintenance; while there are thought to be 2,500 areas where there is asbestos that needs to be removed.

Since 2016, there have been 44 fires and 12 pieces of masonry have fallen off the building, luckily not injuring anybody. There have also been many leaks in the pipework.

The report states that the Palace does not have robust systems to stop fire spreading and while “the clerks remain confident that the Palace could be cleared to minimise the risk to human life, the building itself would be unlikely to be preserved”. 

Parliament has set up a health watch list of construction workers exposed to asbestos. In one recent incident, a contractor drilled into an asbestos-filled roof putting 117 people at risk, though the drill did miss going into the asbestos itself.

This is all coming at a considerable cost to the taxpayer. Parliament is spending £100 million a year – a staggering £2 million every week – patching up repairs, while MPs are still to decide the next steps in renovating the Palace.

“For progress to be made Parliament still needs to agree what a restored palace might look like, and how work will be undertaken,” the report states. “Without this steer, the cost and time-frame for the work will remain uncertain. It is incredible that five years after the House determined a course of action that these questions remain unanswered.”

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Instead, under considerable secrecy, the parliamentary authorities have spent time scrapping a sponsor body responsible for the work and taking it directly under the joint control of Simon Burton, Clerk of the Parliaments and the House of Lords, Simon Burton, and Sir John Benger, Clerk of the Commons.

MPs questioned the change and point out that it was not clear that these two officials, who are responsible for the accurate record of parliamentary proceedings, could do anything except resign if anything went wrong in the building process.

They also point out that the first major parliamentary project – restoring the Elizabeth Tower which houses Big Ben – came in wildly over budget because of hidden underlying problems in the structure. This did not augur well for other major work.

The report states that it will be the end of the year before a series of options will be announced for restoring Parliament. MPs and peers would then choose an option and it would take up to another two years for the final costed plans to be drawn up. Previous options included moving parliamentarians out of the building to temporary accommodation elsewhere.

A UK Parliament spokesperson said: “We are already getting on with work across the parliamentary estate to ensure the safety of those who work and visit here, and to support the continued business of Parliament. This includes planning for the large and complex restoration of the Palace of Westminster to preserve it for future generations.

“Last year, members of both houses agreed a more integrated approach to restoration, prioritising safety critical work. The Restoration and Renewal Programme Board is shortlisting options for the restoration and Members in both Houses are expected to vote on the way forward later this year.”


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