U.K. taxpayers are pouring $2.6 million a week into maintaining the crumbling Houses of Parliament, while a $5-billion restoration program approved two years ago has barely gotten off the ground, according to a new critical report by lawmakers.
“Parliament is literally falling apart around the thousands of people who work there … it’s time for those responsible to get creative and get to work,” said Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier.
Since their completion more than 150 years ago, the neo-Gothic parliamentary buildings have never been seriously renovated, according to officials. Covering 112,000 sq m, the site includes 100 staircases, 31 elevators and more than 3 km of passages over seven floors.
Despite approval of the Parliament building upgrade in January 2018, the Houses of Parliament entity responsible for overseeing work was begun only this April. It is led by Sarah Johnson, the former corporate sponsorship director of HS2 Ltd., the company behind the U.K.’s high speed speed railroad program.
A new delivery authority, led by former London transportation commissioner Mike Brown, will be responsible for procuring work when it begins.
The Parliament restoration sponsor body launched in May a strategic review to re-examine program options without clearly setting out “what this review covers or what previous decisions may be re-opened,” according to the lawmakers’ report “We are concerned that there is a risk that the review will re-open decisions and cause yet further delays.”
The program’s business case has already been delayed from next year to 2022 because the pandemic has impeded site surveys.
The Parliament site’s fire, heating, drainage, mechanical and electrical systems also need replacing. Asbestos has been found in more than 1,000 locations, while at least eight instances of falling masonry have been reported. More than $475 million has been spent on maintenance since 2016.
The 300-m long London landmark replaced a palace, which burned down in 1834. Only the 920-year old Great Hall, with its 21-by-73 m timber roof, survived as the setting for numerous royal coronations and public trials, including one leading to the 1649 beheading of King Charles l.
Parliament was bombed 14 times during World War II, when the debating chamber of the House of Commons was destroyed, and then replaced in 1950.