The Palace is home to one of the busiest parliamentary institutions in the world and as such needs to provide a fully functioning and safe environment for the thousands of people who work here and visit every day.
There has been significant under-investment in the fabric of the Palace since at least the 1940s, when parts of it were renovated following bomb damage during the Second World War. Since its construction in the mid-1800s, many features have never undergone major renovation, and the heating, ventilation, water, drainage and electrical systems are now extremely antiquated. Asbestos is present throughout, and major improvements to fire safety are needed. The cumulative effects of pollution and lack of maintenance are causing extensive decay to stonework. Corrosion has also occurred in gutters and downpipes, resulting in visible damage to carved stonework and ceilings. Internal plumbing regularly fails and the effects of wear and tear are evident in all the principal spaces.
The current ‘patch and mend’ approach tackles only the highest risk problems and is no longer sustainable. Currently, the speed at which the work can be carried out is slower than the rate at which the building is deteriorating, therefore the backlog of essential repairs, and in turn the risk of system failure, is growing significantly over time.
In 2012, the House of Commons and House of Lords commissioned a pre-feasibility study on the condition of the Palace. The study indicated that unless significant restoration work is undertaken, major, irreversible damage may be done to the building.
Following consideration of the 2012 study, both Houses agreed to commission an independent options appraisal to investigate the costs and a range of options for the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. The IOA was produced by an independent team of external experts led by Deloitte Real Estate and published in June 2015.
In July 2015, the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster was established to consider the independent options appraisal and related evidence and make recommendations on a preferred way forward for the refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster. The Committee published its recommendations on 8 September 2016.
Following its year-long inquiry, the Committee concluded that there was “a clear and pressing need to tackle the backlog of work to the Palace in a comprehensive and strategic manner”. The longer the essential work is left, the greater the risk that the building will suffer a sudden, catastrophic failure, or that small, incremental failures such as fire, flood or power failure, make the building uninhabitable and bring a sudden stop to the work of Parliament.
What are the benefits of the Restoration and Renewal Programme?
The Programme is designed to protect the Palace and its historic legacy for future generations, while ensuring value for money for the taxpayer. A further anticipated long-term benefit is a more open, accessible Parliament for all, including significant improvements to disabled access.
The costs of a planned, large-scale restoration programme will be significant but on completion, the benefits could include:
- Securing the future of the Palace as the home of UK Parliament and preserving its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
- Containing all the services needed by a modern, accessible, accountable Parliament, with better, safer access for those who work in and visit the building.
- Improving disabled access, fire safety and removing risks caused by asbestos.
- Increasinged energy efficiency, with lower maintenance and running costs and a significantly reduced carbon footprint.
- Reducing the current requirement for high cost emergency repairs.
- Reducing risk of major disruption to the work of Parliament caused by service failure. At the moment only essential maintenance and repairs are being carried out in order to keep the building functioning.
- Presenting employment and training opportunities such as apprenticeships for construction works and those with specialist conservation skills.
What will the Restoration and Renewal Programme involve?
Major elements of the proposed Restoration and Renewal Programme are likely to include:
- Replacing antiquated heating, ventilation, electrical, water and drainage systems.
- Installation of new and more advanced fire safety systems to minimise the risk of fire damage to the building and make it safer for users.
- Removal of significant amounts of asbestos which has limited the ability to undertake conservation and renovation work in the past.
- Significantly improving disabled access in the Palace, which does not currently meet modern standards.
- Improving health and safety standards.
- Repair and enhancement of the approximately 4,000 bronze and other windows in the Palace.
- Extensive external and internal conservation and renewal of stonework.
- Repairs and conservation work to the historic interiors of international significance.
- Tackling the Palace’s internal plumbing requirements and pipework and guttering externally.
- Replacing the sewage ejector system, which was installed in 1888 and is still in use today.
- Installing information and communications technology necessary for a 21st century Parliament.
How big is the project?
Because of the size and layout of the Palace, it is thought to be the biggest and most complex renovation programme of any single building this country has known. In terms of area, the Palace has approximately the same floor area as the HSBC tower in Canary Wharf.
Palace of Westminster
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