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UK Parliament building at risk of being destroyed: lawmakers

May 17, 2023

Lawmakers are warning of a "real and growing risk" that the Palace of Westminster, which houses Britain's Parliament, might be destroyed by a catastrophic event before it can be restored.

Palace of Westminster, London
Houses of Parliament in Lonfon are in dire need of reconstructionImage: Claudio Divizia/alimdi/IMAGO

Britain's Parliament building is an architectural masterpiece, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But it is also a crumbling, leaky, asbestos-riddled building that is at "real and rising" risk of destruction, British lawmakers said on Wednesday.

In a report, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said the seat of British democracy is "leaking, dropping masonry and at constant risk of fire."

"There is a real and rising risk that a catastrophic event will destroy" the building before long-delayed restoration work is done, the lawmakers said. 

The committee added that "the cost of renewal will be high, but further delays are hugely costly to the taxpayer, lack of action is not value for money."

'Years of procrastination'

In the most urgent in a series of warnings stretching back years, the committee said renewal work had mostly amounted to "patching up" the 19th-century building, at a cost of about 2 million pounds ($2.5 million, €2.3 million) a week.

After decades of broad consensus on the critical need to repair and restore the Palace of Westminster, progress has been painfully slow with "years of procrastination," the committee said.

In 2018, lawmakers voted to move out of the building by the mid-2020s to allow for major repairs that could take several years. But the decision has been questioned ever since by other lawmakers who want to remain in the building. 

Last year, the body set up to oversee the Parliament repair project was scrapped.

Big Ben - secrets of the London landmark

Leaking roof and risk of fire

Meanwhile, the building grows more decrepit. The roof leaks, centuryold steam pipes burst,and chunks of masonry occasionally come crashing down. Mechanical and electrical systems were last updated in the 1940s.

There is so much asbestos that removing it "could require an estimated 300 people working for two and a half years while the site was not being used," the House of Commons committee said.

And there is a constant threat of fire. The committee said there have been 44 "fire incidents" in Parliament since 2016, and wardens now patrol around the clock.

The current building, designed by architect Charles Barry in a neo-Gothic style, was built after fire destroyed its predecessor in 1834.

The AP news agency contributed to this report.

Edited by: Farah Bahgat

Dmytro Hubenko Dmytro covers stories in DW's newsroom from around the world with a particular focus on Ukraine.