Saturday Reader: London Bridge Isn’t Falling Down; the Palace of Westminster Is


Take a tour of the crumbling Palace of Westminster – a landmark of over 900 years of British history -as a BBC Newsnight investigation finds it may cost £3bn to stop the UK Parliament from turning into a ruin.

Taxpayers may have to spend more than £3bn to stop the Palace of Westminster turning into an unusable “ruin”, the BBC has learned.

Dr Richard Ware was appointed in 2012 as director of a group studying the restoration and renewal of the palace, and later that year produced a report that put the capital cost of necessary repairs at around £1.5bn.

The report found that basic services within the building, such as electricity, water and sanitation, were functioning “with increasing difficulty and growing risks”, while asbestos was present throughout the palace and original roofs were no longer watertight, leading to extensive damp, leaks and floods.

The present building – home to the House of Lords since 1847 and the Commons since 1852 – has had no general renovation since repairs to wartime damage in 1945-50, the 2012 report said, adding: “If the palace were not a listed building of the highest heritage value, its owners would probably be advised to demolish and rebuild.”

The report considered the options of constructing a new home for parliament, moving one or both houses temporarily while Westminster is renovated, or attempting to restore the building with MPs and peers working inside – something it warned could take 50 years. And it proposed the establishment of a quango, along the lines of the Olympic Delivery Authority, to oversee the work.

The House of Commons was told last week that £7m was being spent on a further report, with MPs due to choose their favored option in spring 2016 and work not expected to begin in earnest until after 2020.

Ware told Newsnight that if nothing was done, politicians and staff would end up “working in a ruin”. “We’re moving backwards, the building is getting older, faster than we can deal with it. The building is on borrowed time, and if we don’t act soon we won’t have a choice.”

Asked if the cost would be more than £2bn, Ware said it was “not unreasonable to think it will be of that order”. But Newsnight said it had been told that the working assumption was that the cost could reach £3bn over many years. It quoted an unnamed source familiar with the project as saying: “I’d be surprised if it stayed at that.”

BBC Newsnight’s Laura Kuenssburg reports…