A creaky, leaky, asbestos-riddled building in London, known to most people as Parliament, has a ‘real and rising risk’ of falling to pieces.
A slight breeze likely won’t topple the Palace of Westminster, a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site, but MPs have warned a ‘catastrophic event’ could.
The palace is ‘leaking, dropping masonry and at constant risk of fire’ and plans to restore it – which have been delayed since 2018 – can’t come soon enough.
The Public Accounts Committee, which checks whether a government project is worth the money, said in a report today that Parliament has, at best, been paying £2,000,000 a week to ‘patch up the Palace’.
‘There is a real and rising risk that a catastrophic event will destroy the Palace before it is ever repaired and restored,’ the committee said.
The MPs added that ‘the cost of renewal will be high but further delays are hugely costly to the taxpayer, lack of action is not value for money’.
Politicians have been in agreement for years that the 19th-century building needs to be fixed.
But ‘years of procrastination, and parliamentary decisions being reopened’ kept pushing the restorations further and further back.
In 2018, MPs voted to move out of Westminster by the mid-2020s to allow builders to get to work.
But some MPs want to keep the palace as their office space while others aren’t even sure how to protect the building or how it should look after the repairs.
Committee chair and Labour MP Meg Hillier said: ‘It is difficult to have confidence in the future of the project to repair and restore this iconic world heritage site that thousands of people work in and visit every day.
‘But 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.’
(Though, Hillier did not mention that some showers in Parliament had to close last year after legionella bacteria – that causes pneumonia – was discovered).
The asbestos issue – fibres used in roofing materials and cement that can increase someone’s risk for cancer – is so bad it ‘could require an estimated 300 people working for two and a half years while the site was not being used’.
The constant threat of fire doesn’t help either, it added. There have been at least 44 ‘fire incidents’ since 2016 and wardens now have to patrol.
The Palace of Westminster was actually heavily rebuilt in 1834 after burning down, but Westminster Hall (the oldest part of the estate) was erected in 1097.
Upkeep costs about £100,000,000 a year for it, with 27 critical projects in the pipeline and more than 4,000 maintenance issues reported every week, the committee added.
In the meantime, Hillier said she and the committee are hoping for MPs to ‘clarify’ what’s going on.
‘And, finally, a clear indication of the cost and timeline for getting this massive job done,’ she added, ‘before it becomes too late to do so.’
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