Parliament so crumbling and asbestos-riddled it’s at risk of being ‘destroyed by catastrophic incident’, MPs warn | Politics News
Parliament is so crumbling and asbestos-riddled it is at risk of being “destroyed by a catastrophic incident”, MPs have warned.
The seat of British democracy is “leaking, dropping masonry and at constant risk of fire” with asbestos throughout the building, a report by the Commons public accounts committee found.
“There is a real and rising risk that a catastrophic event will destroy” the building before long-delayed restoration work is done, the committee said.
There have been warnings about the state of the 19th Century building for years, with scaffolding surrounding much of parliament but the committee said work had been painfully slow and mostly amounts to “patching up”.
With refurbishment work costing about £2m a week, the committee hit out at “years of procrastination”.
The building, which attracts a million visitors a year, is a UNESCO World Heritage site so must be protected.
In 2018, after many years of indecision, MPs voted to move out of the Palace of Westminster by the mid-2020s to allow repair work that will take years.
But many MPs do not want to leave and last year, the independent group set up to oversee the project was scrapped – despite leaking rooves, century-old steam pipes bursting and chunks of masonry sometimes falling.
The group had warned if MPs and peers insisted on staying put, the project could end up lasting as long as 76 years, and cost as much as £22bn.
It has been about 80 years since the mechanical and electrical systems were last updated.
The committee said there is so much asbestos that removing it “could require an estimated 300 people working for two and a half years while the site was not being used”.
There is also a constant threat of fire, with 44 “fire incidents” in parliament since 2016 and wardens now having to patrol around the clock, the committee added.
However, MPs are wary of approving more ambitious restoration plans, with some concerned the public will resent the multi-billion pound cost during a time when people are struggling financially.
More traditional MPs are also reluctant to move out of the building, which has subsidised restaurants and bars, as well as a terrace with views of the Thames.
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“The cost of renewal will be high, but further delays are hugely costly to the taxpayer – lack of action is not value for money,” the committee said.
Committee chair and Labour MP Meg Hillier said there was a “real risk that the whole building will be destroyed by a catastrophic incident before the work is done, or perhaps even begun”.
The committee has called on MPs, lords and parliamentary authorities to set out “a clear indication of the cost and timeline for getting this massive job done before it becomes too late to do so”.
Authorities said they were “getting on with work across the parliamentary estate to ensure the safety of those who work and visit here,” with dozens of repair and restoration projects already under way.
Officials said they are “planning for the large and complex restoration of the Palace of Westminster to preserve it for future generations”.
MPs and lords are expected to vote on how to go forward with the refurb later this year.
There is concern history risks repeating itself after the Palace of Westminster burnt to the ground in 1834 following years of MPs arguing about the need to renovate the old parliament.