Managers of the U.K.’s Houses of Parliament continue spending about $125 million per year patching up the crumbling structures and ailing services of the 1,100-room Victorian-era complex by the River Thames, in London.

Progress on a multibillion-dollar restoration plan has been “painfully slow” with significant decisions being reopened and overturned, according to a new critical report by the Public Accounts Committee of lawmakers.

With so much procrastination, “it is difficult to have confidence in the future of the project to repair and restore this iconic world heritage site that thousands of people work in and visit every day,” said the committee’s chairwoman, Meg Hillier.

The committee finds it “incredible” that five years after parliament agreed a course of action, “questions about what a restored palace might look like and how the work will be undertaken remain unanswered.” Schedule and cost also remain uncertain, except spending “will be high and that further delays are hugely costly to the taxpayer.”

Since its completion roughly 150 years ago, the neo-Gothic home of U.K.’s two houses of parliament have never been seriously renovated, according to officials. Covering 1.2 million sq ft, the buildings include 100 staircases, 31 elevators and miles of passages over seven floors. 

Officials legally responsible for the building’s safety told Hillier’s committee that continuing inaction could result in “catastrophic and irreversible damage,” adding that the buildings would be unlikely to survive a major fire. 

Since parliament embarked on a huge restoration effort in 2018, it has stumbled over how to manage the project. In 2019, it created a sponsor body of lawmakers and external members, and a separate delivery authority. 

But with cost projections ranging from $8 billion to $16 billion and uncertainty over the project's duration, officials proposed a different management in March 2022. 

Established in spring 2020, the sponsor body was abolished early this year, with its legal responsibilities being transferred to executive officers. At the same time, a two-tier management system was established.

The restoration and renewal client board was created last September, taking responsibility for making key strategic choices. A separate project board started up this February with day-to-day oversight of the independent delivery authority.

With lawmakers strongly represented in the new boards, the governance structure “may mitigate some risks,” notes the accounts committee. “But these arrangements remain untested,” it adds. The project’s management organization must “build confidence in their ability to deliver a programme of this magnitude and complexity,” urges the committee.

The delivery authority has so far spent $340 million, mainly developing a business plan that was paused early last year when the new management structure was proposed. It has complied more than 1,750 technical reports, with more to come. 

Before this year’s end, the team is due to agree on a way forward for the project, ahead of developing a detailed business plan. Discovery of asbestos at 2,500 locations within the site hint at the scale of work to come. Removing it could take 300 people two-and-a-half years, officials forecast.