Condition of the Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster dates from the mid-1800s. It was a highly advanced building with innovative design features for its time; a purpose-built home for Parliament.
Since its construction, many features have never undergone major renovation. The heating, ventilation, water, drainage and electrical systems are now extremely antiquated and improvements to fire safety are needed. The cumulative effects of pollution and lack of maintenance is causing extensive decay to stonework. The roofs are leaking, asbestos is present throughout, and corrosion has occurred in gutters and downpipes and internal plumbing regularly fails, causing visible and sometimes irreversible damage to the Palace’s carved stonework ceilings and Pugin-designed historic interiors.
Maintaining the building today
Parliament’s Strategic Estates is responsible for maintaining and improving buildings across the Parliamentary Estate, whilst working closely with the maintenance team within the Department of Facilities. Rigorous checks and surveys of the Palace are carried out regularly to ensure it remains safe and the risk of catastrophic system failure and disruption to Parliament is kept to a minimum.
To date, all intrusive renovation work has been carried out around sittings of Parliament. This approach has permitted only the minimum essential maintenance and piecemeal replacement of systems at highest risk of failure. This is not sustainable in the long term. Currently, the speed at which the work can be carried out is slower than the rate at which the building is deteriorating so the backlog of essential repairs (and in turn the risk of system failure) is growing significantly over time.
The problem of asbestos
One of the biggest problems affecting the repair and maintenance of the Palace is the existence of asbestos throughout the building.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that became a popular building material in the mid-twentieth century. It was widely used in many building applications because of its resistance to fire and insulation properties. It was used extensively in the Palace, particularly during the post-war rebuilding period. It is now found in many areas, such as lagging and gaskets of pipework and ductwork, within insulation boards and fire linings, even within some paint. Where asbestos cannot be practically removed it is securely encased and regularly tested and inspected.
Palace of Westminster
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