How best to manage the £3.5bn maintenance job on the Palace of Westminster
The UK parliament faces a quandary on how best to manage and programme the anticipated £3.5bn spend to bring Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin’s grade I-listed Houses of Parliament into repair. As a building surveyor I have often had to advise clients on similar situations, although not quite on this scale. The big question for parliament now is whether or not to decant itself.
The catalogue of disrepair is one with which professionals and contractors are often faced with whether it’s a structure riddled with asbestos, outdated plumbing and electrics or windows that won’t close. It is reported that this is also a concern for MPs who don’t want to run the risk of missing key votes by being stuck in a lift which is in need of repair. Subsidence is also apparently causing the iconic timepiece, Big Ben, to tilt very slightly.
The scale of works required at the Houses of Parliament and their associated costs naturally ignite debate around the cost of refurbishment in comparison with the expense of new build
While the inconvenience of decanting could create five years of major inconvenience and upheaval, a piecemeal or patchwork approach to complex issues invariably leads to compromise. But there is no guarantee that costs will be easily managed. It is estimated that without vacant possession the parliament reconstruction bill could be up to £7bn over 30-40 years. Regardless of the building programme approach selected, this will be a fascinating project for whichever professional and project team are put forward to run the scheme.
While London’s skyline is constantly evolving with new and revolutionary buildings, it is arguably the challenge of complex refurbishment where the construction industry performs at its best. For many, complex projects can be the most challenging and rewarding. Even with the best planning, investigation and risk management, the scope for the unexpected and the unplanned provides challenges which need to be navigated.
The scale of works required at the Houses of Parliament and their associated costs naturally ignite debate around the cost of refurbishment in comparison with the expense of new build, but this is not necessarily around how backlogged maintenance can be avoided and more effectively proactively managed.
With Buckingham Palace also considering a £150m maintenance spend, the debate will surely continue.
Helen Gough is head of JLL’s Buildings & Construction team