Mcalpine set for Big Ben re­pair deal as clock row rages

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Business - By Iain Withers and Rhi­an­non Bury

THE Gov­ern­ment is poised to an­nounce that Sir Robert Mcalpine, one of the UK’S largest pri­vate com­pa­nies, has won the con­tract to re­pair Lon­don’s El­iz­a­beth Tower, de­spite the row over the de­ci­sion to si­lence Big Ben for four years to pro­tect work­ers’ hear­ing.

The con­struc­tion gi­ant had al­ready been awarded scaf­fold­ing and pre-con­struc­tion con­tracts worth around £3.5m, but is now un­der­stood to have se­cured the en­tire £29m job.

Min­is­ters are ex­pected to an­nounce the deal when MPS re­turn from the re­cess, although the work it­self has been over­shad­owed by out­rage over the de­ci­sion to si­lence the fa­mous bell for four years while it is car­ried out.

Sir Robert Mcalpine will be tasked with con­serv­ing sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ments of the iconic tower, which was de­signed by ar­chi­tects Charles Barry and Au­gus­tus Welby Pu­gin in 1835. It will also re­pair and re­dec­o­rate the in­te­rior, re­new build­ing ser­vices, and im­prove health, safety and fire pre­ven­tion.

Unions rep­re­sent­ing Sir Robert Mcalpine work­ers said they were mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion, but re­mained com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing staff on what would be a “dif­fi­cult and com­pli­cated project”.

A union spokesman said: “Con­cerns about noise lev­els are gen­uine as dam­age to hear­ing is likely over a sus­tained pe­riod of time and the use of ear de­fend­ers is not suit­able as it would re­sult in the work­ers not be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively which im­pacts on safety and the ef­fi­ciency of the work­ers.”

He added that there was a dan­ger of work­ers be­ing star­tled by the bell, which posed a par­tic­u­lar risk to peo­ple work­ing at height.

It is un­clear whether the plan to si­lence Big Ben will be re­versed amid the out­cry, with crit­ics in­clud­ing the man who has main­tained the clock for decades, clock-maker Melvyn Lee, who branded the plan “non­sense”.

Sir Robert Mcalpine de­clined to com­ment.

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