The iconic Palace of Westminster, home to the House of Commons and House of Lords, is at risk for a "catastrophic event" that could make the structure unusable, according to an alarming report from the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster.
In order to stave off permanent damage, the report recommends that the heart of the British political system vacate the building for an urgent six-year, £4 billion (roughly $5.3 billion) renovation. The work would focus on updating the palace’s mechanical and electrical systems, many of which date from the mid-20th century and reached the end of their projected lifecycles in the 1970s and 1980s.
"Complete and sudden failure of the M&E services—the kind that would require the Palace to be abandoned immediately—is a real possibility," says the report.
The renovation plan calls for a comprehensive replacement of the building’s electrical cables and pipes, which have been kept running through unsustainable stop-gap measures, with new elements run haphazardly atop of old. Replacing the M&E systems accounts for about 74% of the proposed budget.
However, asbestos fills nearly every vertical riser, energy plant room, hallway, and under-floor area of the building, further complicating an already complex job. Other elements of the renovation include installing proper fire barriers, improving accessibility to meet current standards, and preserving the building’s historic elements.
The Committee report recommends that Parliament leave the building for six yeas while this overhaul is completed, beginning in 2023. For now, a Delivery Authority and Sponsor Board will need to be established next, in order to validate the report’s findings and create a comprehensive renovation plan. Even if the Parliament permanently moves to a new building, as many suggest it should, a full renovation of the Palace of Westminster will still need to be carried out, unless, as the report says, "the nation wished to tolerate the eventual loss of this iconic building."