Par­lia­ment could burn down un­less Theresa May backs £4bn up­grade

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL -

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.

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