Parliament could burn down unless Theresa May backs £4bn upgrade
The Houses of Parliament could burn down in a “catastrophic event” unless Theresa May gives the go-ahead to new plans to renovate the building, a crossparty committee has warned.
The body has warned that unless the Government backs plans, which could cost around £4 billion and take up to eight years, the historic building could be destroyed by fire or flood.
But a spokesman for Mrs. May suggested the Prime Minister has not yet seen the plans and refused to back the scheme, which would see the Commons chamber moved to the Department of Health’s current offices, while the Lords would sit in the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre.
They added: “The PM’s view is that we should carefully consider the proposals and will want to hear the views of MPs before deciding on the direction.
“We will need to look at the way forward in discussion with Parliament.”
Mrs. May could choose to block the scheme, which requires government sign-off for the work to commence. MPs and Lords will also debate the plans.
Baroness Stowell, who chairs the cross-party committee on the renewal project, said ministers must listen to the recommendations and not put off the important decision any longer.
She said: “The Government is a big stakeholder in this, but I expect the Government to take its lead from Parliament.
“We need government to work with us on this. We’re not going to be able to go ahead unless we’re all agreed.”
Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who is also on the committee, added: “If either House sets its mind against it, it wouldn’t be able to succeed.
“If the Government sets its mind against it, it wouldn’t be able to succeed, that’s why we all have to march together on this.
“It would be a dereliction of our duty [not to proceed with this]. I can’t tell you when it will be, but there will be a catastrophic failure . . . this is not a vanity project.”
The Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster warned that the decision on how to repair Parliament could not be delayed any further and suggested that work, estimated to take around six to eight years, should start in 2023.
Their report said: “The Palace of Westminster, a masterpiece of Victorian and medieval architecture and engineering, faces an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore.
“It is impossible to say when this will happen, but there is a substantial and growing risk of either a single, catastrophic event, such as a major fire, or a succession of incremental failures in essential systems which would lead to Parliament no longer being able to occupy the Palace.”
A study by Deloitte last year highlighted the appalling condition of the Palace, with potentially deadly fire risks, collapsing roofs, crumbling walls, leaking pipes and large quantities of asbestos.
The committee rejected the option of trying to carry out repair work without leaving the building, or completing the renovations in stages with each chamber moving out in turn.
The “full decant” option, with both Houses moving out temporarily, was estimated by Deloitte to cost between £3 billion and £4.3 billion, with the most likely figure being around £3.5 billion.
The report warned that there is a significant risk of flooding and fire and a number of major incidents have already occurred on the estate.
It also concluded that there would be a security risk if MPs and staff were to remain on site while the work took place because of the need for frequent access to the Palace from trades and workmen.
Work will be carried out to repair the mechanical and electrical systems in the Palace, which are old and not working properly. This will take up around 74 per cent of the budget, the report predicts, with the other 26 per cent being spent on restoring historical features including carpets and curtains.
However, the committee set out some concerns about the skills needed to carry out such specialised work, warning that the lack of qualified workers in the UK could lead to the project running over schedule.
But Baroness Stowell said the risk could also be viewed as an opportunity to encourage young people around the country to enter the professions, which will be required to carry out the work in the years to come.
The committee did not recommend moving MPs and Lords outside of London while the Palace is renovated because of the cost implication and the need to move civil servants and other staff alongside both Houses.
It also ruled out a floating palace on the river Thames, citing issues of size and the possibility that it could block river traffic. Other plans including turning the Palace into a museum and using new buildings for debates were also ruled out.
The Palace of Westminster, commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, in London.