£79m project had been due to complete by the end of next year

Sir Robert McAlpine’s high-profile job restoring the tower containing Big Ben will not be finished next year as expected - with parliament blaming covid-19 for the delays.

The £79m restoration of the 96m-tall Elizabeth Tower in Westminster was due to be finished by the end of 2021 but the House of Commons has now confirmed that this is  unlikely due to disruption caused by the pandemic.


Source: shutterstock.com

Work stopped on all sites within the parliamentary estate on 25 March in order to implement social distancing measures. Phased reopening did not start until 11 May and the Elizabeth Tower, which contains the famous bell, was closed until July. 

Measures introduced included shift work, adapted welfare facilities, new signage and temperature checks on entering.

The parliament has now confirmed that completion of the project has been pushed back. "Prior to the covid-19 pandemic, the project was on schedule to be completed by the end of 2021," the update said. 

> Feature: The restoration of Elizabeth Tower

"However, the closure of the site for four months combined with a reduction in productivity means that a completion date in 2021 now looks unlikely - and a revised completion date for the conservation project is expected in the new year."

The project team is currently back and working close to full productivity. Aside from McAlpine as main contractor it includes Lendlease as project manager, Currie & Brown as consultant, conservation architect Purcell and Aecom as structural engineer.

The restoration project is an incredibly technical scheme that involved the erection of scaffolding 104m high. It has 24,000 elements and took two years to put together at a cost of £3.5m. 

In 2017 it was revealed that total costs on the Elizabeth Tower renovation project had more than doubled to £61m from £29m. Reasons given included the need for more and complex work on the tower and clock, as well as further ground works to support the weight of the scaffolding.

Parliament increased the amount of money set aside to pay for unexpected events or challenges that may arise as the scheme proceeds from £5.8m to £17.2m. Funding for fire safety work, which was originally budgeted in a different scheme, was transferred to the Big Ben scheme, adding another £4.5m to the overall cost.

The total budget has been subsequently increased to £79m.

Work currently underway includes repairs within the Elizabeth Tower and Great Clock which cannot be done while the clock is in operation. Problems include cracks in the masonry, leaks, erosion and severe rusting of the metalwork.

Progress is also being made to conserve significant elements of the tower, which was designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin in 1843. Part of this involves returning the colour scheme to the original design.

The project team is also working to repair and redecorate the interior, renew the building services and make improvements to health and safety and fire protection systems.

Big Ben will be reconnected so that it can be struck on New Year's Eve. Parliament's clock mechanics are set to test the bell at various times from 29 December.

On 31 December, Big Ben will be struck at 12pm, 4pm, 9pm, 10pm, 11pm and, finally, when the clock reaches midnight.

The clock and striking mechanism were originally disconnected in August 2017.