Houses of Parliament Could Close for Five Years

Commons officials in charge of maintenance at Westminster Palace, aka. the Houses of Parliament, have tabled proposals to relocate Parliament for up to five years in order that a series of repairs can be carried out to Britain’s most famous building.

The state of disrepair of London’s iconic Grade I listed structure has been well publicised in recent months, including by us (see our article on the Leaning Tower of London) and, although it has been updated numerous times before, it is now urgently in need of a major overhaul.

Items of particular disrepair reputedly include the out-of-date plumbing and electrical systems, subsidence and even sections riddled with asbestos. The famous clock tower of Pugin’s structure, known colloquially as ‘Big Ben’ and formally as the ‘Elizabeth Tower’, is said to be leaning around one and a half feet off the perpendicular.

Although plans for the maintenance works are in the early stages, it has been said that the commons officers favour plans to move the functions of Government away from the building, instead of staging the repairs around the parliamentary recesses (around 20 weeks of the year). Proponents say that this would be a cost effective option, but MPs are reportedly wary:

“I would not be happy to have other options closed down just because it suits some building manager to close down parliament,” commented a senior MP, who sits on the House of Commons commission.

“We are talking about something very drastic, closing down parliament for five years. Some MPs would not mind moving out of the place. But others would object. Those in favour of this idea are not taking into account the cost of going elsewhere, the practicalities of moving and the effect it would have on government.”

The commission, chaired by Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, oversees Commons administration, and commissioned a report this year into long-term plans for renovation of the Commons. Potential options could even include the construction of a new Parliament building, although those that followed the debacle over the new Scottish parliament building (running some £150m of taxpayer’s money over budget) may be cynical of this particular proposal.

Whichever route is chosen, that decision won’t be made for some time. The Commons commission has stated this year that all renovation options are being considered and that a final decision will not be taken for several years.

“It is envisaged that [the options report] will take approximately a year, with any decisions on renovations not being made until the next parliament (2015-2020), with any work not commencing before 2020,”

Typical Government expediency.

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