The need for the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster
The Restoration and Renewal Programme has been established to tackle the essential work required to protect the heritage of the Palace of Westminster (the Houses of Parliament) and ensure it can continue to serve as home to the UK Parliament in the 21st century and beyond.
There has been significant underinvestment in the Palace since the 1940s, when parts of it were renovated following bomb damage during the Second World War. Despite being one of the most iconic buildings in the world, many parts have never undergone major renovation since its construction in the mid-1800s.
The heating, ventilation, water, drainage and electrical systems are now antiquated with asbestos needing to be removed and improvements to fire safety required. There is extensive decay to the stonework, roofs are leaking and gutters and downpipes are corroded. The plumbing regularly fails, causing visible and sometimes irreversible damage to the Palace’s carved stonework ceilings and Pugin-designed historic interiors. Earlier this year, the House had to be suspended due to a water leak.
The building is deteriorating faster than it can be repaired. The longer this essential work is left, the greater the risk that the building will suffer a sudden catastrophic failure that makes the building uninhabitable and brings a sudden stop to the work of Parliament. Because of the size and layout of the Palace, this will be the biggest and most complex, historic renovation programme ever undertaken in the UK.
Some essential work is already underway across the estate to keep the buildings operational. A programme of work to conserve the Elizabeth Tower, the Great Clock and the Great Bell (also known as Big Ben) began in early 2017 and is on track for completion in 2021.
Since 2009 repair work has been underway to the Palace’s 170-year-old cast iron tiled roofs, which are leaking and causing damage to stonework and historic interiors.
Works to Westminster Hall, which involved internal stone cleaning, conservation of statues, friezes and carved stonework, were completed in 2015. The hall dates back to 1099 and further conservation and fire safety work is now underway.
Refurbishment work has also begun at 1 Derby Gate and new security gates have been installed at Commissioner’s Yard Gate on the Northern Estate.
Fire safety systems are antiquated, and fire safety officers are required to patrol the Palace 24-hours-a-day to spot signs of fire.
The Palace was built using Anston limestone which quickly began to decay and very little was done to prevent its decline during the 19th century.
Some of the essential mechanical and electrical services such as heating, drainage, lighting, water, ventilation and communications are now up to 130 years old.
Asbestos, which was used extensively during the post-war rebuilding period, is present throughout the building.
Repairs are needed to preserve Victoria Tower, currently home to the Parliamentary Archives.
The vast majority of the Palace’s 4,000 bronze windows do not close properly, letting water in and heat out and many of the most historically significant parts of the Palace are at risk.