Houses of Parliament ‘literally’ crumbling

By Leila Steed18 October 2021

Experts conduct survey at Houses of Parliament in the UK Parts of the building date back over 900 years. ©Houses of Parliament Restoration & Renewal

A structural survey of the UK’s Houses of Parliament has revealed that the building has “thousands of structural issues”, including cracks and widespread water damage.

The survey, which took over 50 expert engineers, architectural surveyors, ecologists and acoustics and lighting specialists “thousands of hours” to carry out, was undertaken as part of “essential restoration” plans for the Palace of Westminster.

Carried out over the course of the summer while Parliament was in recess, the survey team spent around 4,700 hours examining 2,343 areas of the building - some parts of which date back over 900 years.

The examination of 1,100 rooms, 100 staircases, 128 plant rooms and three miles of passageways found that the seven miles of steam pipes and 250 miles of cabling housed within the building, all need to be stripped out.

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Experts conduct survey at Houses of Parliament in the UK Seven miles of steam pipes and 250 miles of cabling need stripping out. ©Houses of Parliament Restoration & Renewal

In addition to the building’s extensive electrical, ventilation, heating and mechanical systems also being significantly outdated, other defects identified by the survey included issues with the building’s historical features.

Many of its 3,000 original windows, including its famed Victorian stained-glass windows, were found to be “warping and sagging due to age”.

Classed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Palace of Westminster has for some time been listed as being at “high risk of sudden failure from fire, flooding or stone fall”.

Over 40,000 problems with the building have been reported since 2017 alone and the continual maintenance needed to just keep the building running already costs around £2 million a week.

This includes the provision a 24/7 fire warden patrol team tasked with spotting and managing fires or incidents which could lead to a fire in the building.

houses of parliament doors ©Houses of Parliament Restoration & Renewal

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Leader of the House of Commons, said, “The Houses of Parliament building is recognised the world over as a symbol of our nation, but this building requires a considerable level of care to keep it working and needs an essential programme of restoration work.

“We must be able to justify this project to taxpayers. That’s why it’s so important to understand and map out the restoration work needed to protect the building – so that the focus is on those essential works necessary to preserve the Palace for future generations.”

Part of an extensive and ongoing investigation into the building’s condition, the survey is the latest of a raft of inspections that will be used to create a detailed schedule of works for the Houses of Parliament: Restoration and Renewal Programme.

Upon the completion of further inspections and “even more detailed surveys” next year, planning and preparation works to safeguard the building’s historic collections will then begin.

Experts conduct survey at Houses of Parliament in the UK Expert engineers conduct an inspection of the roof. ©Houses of Parliament Restoration & Renewal

This will include the removal and storage of thousands of pieces of furniture, artwork and around 4 million Parliamentary archive records - some of which date back to the 15th century.  

Sarah Johnson, CEO of the Houses of Parliament Restoration & Renewal Sponsor Body, said, “The essential programme to restore the deteriorating Palace of Westminster will protect our world-famous Parliament for generations to come.

“These critical and complex investigations are already informing our detailed restoration plan, which will for the first time set out a true sense of the costs and timescales of the much-needed work.”

The final plans and costs for the restoration and renewal programme are expected to be completed in 2023, and will then be submitted to Parliament for approval. 

Experts conduct survey at Houses of Parliament in the UK A schedule of works and costs for the restoration and renewal programme will be submitted to Parliament for approval once all the surveys are completed. ©Houses of Parliament Restoration & Renewal
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