Palace of Westminster at risk of "catastrophic event" without urgent £4bn repairs, says report
The Palace of Westminster is in danger of an “impending crisis” that cannot be ignored and a growing risk of a “catastrophic event” if extensive repairs are not carried out soon, a report by MPs and Peers has warned.
The Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, which was set up last year to examine how to fix the decaying building, said that the current “patch and mend” approach was no longer sustainable amd has recommended that both Houses move out entirely for six years so that a £4bn programme of works can take place.
It has whittled down options for temporary accommodation to two buildings nearby - the Department of Health’s offices at Richmond House for the Commons chamber and the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre for the Lords.
However a move to the Horse Guards Parade or constructing a temporary Chamber in King Charles Street, off Whitehall, could still be considered if a move to its preferred two locations fell through.
The latest findings come after a study by Deloitte, HOK and AECOM last year warned of the poor condition of the UNESCO World Heritage site and highlighted the major work needed to be done to fix the building’s vast network of againg cables and address problems such as asbestos, crumbling walls and leaking pipes.
The committee said that that a complete and sudden failure of its mechanical and electrical services— some dating back to the Victorian era – was a “real possibility”.
“The Palace of Westminster, a masterpiece of Victorian and medieval architecture and engineering, faces an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore. 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.”
A full move was one of three proposals suggested the Deloitte-led study. The other two options included a rolling programme of works which would have allowed MPs and Lords to stay in the building but would have taken 32 years and cost around £5.2bn, while the other was a partial relocation taking 11 years and costing up to £4.4bn.
However committee member, Chris Bryant MP, said “all the evidence points to having to move out of the whole Palace simultaneously. That is the lowest risk, most cost-effective and quickest option.”
The committee has recommended that Parliament should establish a Delivery Authority to develop a full business case and prepare a final budget for Parliament’s approval.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston, co-chairman of the Committee, said: “We must not spend a penny more than is absolutely necessary, but this is now an increasingly urgent problem. We can’t put off the decision to act any longer if we are to protect one of the most important and iconic parts of our national heritage. The next phase of work, to be conducted by the Delivery Authority, will be vital in ensuring that Parliament has a fully costed and tested plan for conducting the work, before being asked to give the final go-ahead for the works to start.”
Downing Street has said Prime Minister Theresa May not yet seen the report and will respond in due course.