The Grade I listed Palace of Westminster, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the “Mother of All Parliaments” is in desperate need of refurbishment, and, after years of debate and delays, the first steps are being taken to begin a programme of renovation.
BDP and CH2M will work together in a £12 million contract to lay the groundwork for a long-term strategy, expected to cost around £4 billion. BDP will supply architecture and building design services and CH2M will be in charge of programme, project and cost management services. Initially, they will undertake a detailed exploration of the condition of the buildings, then further develop a security strategy, design plans for a major programme of asbestos removal and make much-needed fire safety improvements.
Designed by Charles Barry and home to the House of Lords since 1847 and the House of Commons since 1852, the Palace of Westminster currently has an annual repair bill in excess of £30 million. With Big Ben affected by subsidence, a leaking roof, disintegrating stonework, some pipework in excess of 100 years old and no full fire-safety containment system recommended for historic buildings, many of the major systems in the Palace have never undergone a major renovation. The water, heating, ventilation, drainage and electrical systems are antiquated – the mechanical and electrical systems were last renewed in the 1940’s and have been due for replacement since the 1980’s. There is also little disabled access and some of the lifts are over 100 years old.
The renovation of the Palace of Westminster will be one of the largest major restorations in the history of the public sector, and debate continues on the scale and scope of the work to be undertaken. There are a variety of options on the table, from Parliament vacating the premises entirely for six years to allow work to be carried out at a cost of £3.5 billion, to a complex rolling system of works with over 32 years at a cost of £5.7 billion. At a time of public cuts and intense competition for public spending, the process of decision-making is complex with a need to ensure the most value for money for taxpayers whilst protecting and preserving the heritage of one of the world’s most iconic buildings, and maintaining the ongoing work of the mechanics of government.
A cross-party restoration and renewal committee of peers and MPs, as well as the Treasury Select Committee are investigating options; acknowledging work must be carried out but seeking evidence to help with the decision-making process. It is hoped that, by awarding this contract, the first steps are being taken towards the goal of fulfilling the full restoration programme, with the hope that further contracts will be awarded in the near future.