The houses of parliament are due to undergo an estimated £4bn taxpayer funded refurbishment in 2018. Amongst the list of well needed repairs are many ongoing issues, steam leaks which risk distributing asbestos around the Palace and leaking roofs, water pipes and toilets making flooding a common occurrence.
The building does not have a fire sprinkler system or fire doors which keep fires contained, which are common in other commercial buildings. Parliamentary authorities have received advice that some of the cast-iron roofs are in danger of partial collapse if nothing is done.
Gutters collect smelly pigeon carcasses half-chewed by the peregrine falcons that nest there. Three years ago a rooftop water tank collapsed, flooding the corridor below and drenching valuable paintings. The stonework looks more medieval than Victorian, after years of weathering. To the north, the clock tower popularly known as Big Ben leans by nearly nine inches (22cm), rattled out of place by the Jubilee tube Line running beneath.
The refurbishment could last as long as five years, as the repair job will be enormous. One priority is the roof. White stains, a product of rainwater from above and vapour from the crowds below, gild the ceiling of Central Lobby, the vast chamber between the lower and upper houses. The pre-war steam-heating system reaches only 30% of the rooms in the palace. Some are freezing in winter and stuffy in summer. Others have no smoke detectors. New MPs are often keen to have an office in the palace, but wiser ones head across the road to Portcullis House, a modern building that opened in 2001.
Many of the biggest problems lie under the surface. The palace has 444 miles of wires and about 17 miles of pipes, many in the enormous basement. The wiring was installed bit by bit, and it shows. Masses of lines carrying electricity, division announcements, phone calls and broadcast feeds. Workmen have stated that they have chased the wires for years but never traced them all. Some are almost completely inaccessible, preventing any repairs. A fury of 1950s telephone wires pinned to one corridor wall remains a mystery to engineers.
The lack of maps will make it even bigger. No original drawings by Charles Barry, who designed the 1,100-room palace after the fire in 1834, survived. The authorities are constantly adding to their plans as new chambers and vents are discovered. Under one flagstone, workers recently discovered remains of the bench at which Londoners stood to petition kings nearly a millennium ago.
Here are some of the repairs that are in desperate need of being actioned.
The walls and floors are infested with the dangerous substance – putting all occupants of the Palace at risk.
Much of the building needs re-wiring, and generators do not produce enough power
Many original shafts are filled with wires, and a major failure of the ventilation system is judged to be inevitable.
Many boilers date from the 1930s, pipes are clogged with limescale and are in danger of fracturing – causing dangerous steam leaks which could close the Commons chamber for months
Faulty guttering and broken pipes cause regular flooding, and the Big Ben belfry is particularly badly affected by water penetration. Walls are damp and stained.
A problem throughout the Palace, particularly as cast-iron roofs are coming to the end of their life.
Several pieces of wood fall from the fourteenth-century roof of Westminster Hall every year, while in 1980 a heavy boss fell from the roof of the House of Lords chamber
Pipes and culverts seriously overloaded because they are now expected to deal with more waste than expected.
Out of date alarms and automatic detection systems; little ‘compartmentation’ meaning fire can spread easily.
Oldest lift dates from 1893, several contain obsolete components. Only nine compliant with building regulations.