The Bowels of the Palace

Baroness D'Souza

It’s only when I get a spare moment and log on to the blog that I realise what a lot has happened. Days pass with frantic rushes to get to the next meeting more or less on time (meetings do nearly always  begin on time in this place – rooms are usually booked for an hour and at two minutes to the hour the next batch is anxiously crowding outside) and often failing. The problem in part is the distance between let us say the Committee Corridor (first floor House of Lords side) and Portcullis House (under Bridge Street and into a separate building).

Anyway one of my duties is as a member of the Administration and Works Committee which, as its name implies, oversees all operational aspects of the House of Lords and agrees expenditure.  A major upcoming matter is the complete renewal of the entire heating, ventilation, electrical, and other cabling systems which go back over 150 years and are housed in several acres of underground passages known previously perhaps only to Guy Fawkes.

On Tuesday I, and a couple of  other committee members, went on a little tour in order to see the state of the works with a view to eventually agreeing something like £350 million worth of refurbishment. Well readers – it was a nightmare!

The pervasive spread of asbestos, liberally used up until about 30 years ago, has prevented any real modernisation. Asbestos is almost impossible to eradicate bit by bit since it moves around and quickly recolonises cleared patches. At the moment almost the entire underground works are covered in foil to contain it but this has, in turn, prevented repairs and removal. The result is that the steam pipes that provide heat and water are behind cables carryng 11,000 volts of electricity which are themselves behind communications cabling which in turn are behind, telephone wires and so it goes on. While we were there – two leaky pipes began spouting steam.

The only solution is to gut the place but this could only be done during summer recesses if the Palace as a whole is to continue working. This would take over a decade to complete. The other solution would be to vacate the Palace and move Parliament to somewhere else for 3-4 years to undertake this huge task. Meanwhile the threat of some kind of failure resulting in power cuts (or worse) is greater it seems than a terrorist attack.

2 comments for “The Bowels of the Palace

  1. 28/11/2008 at 11:52 am

    One of the disadvantages of being one of the most forward-thinking, rampantly creative and inventive economies for hundreds of years does seem to be that all the buildings and industrial infrastructure start at the cutting edge but end up being older than everyone else’s.

    Is there any way of working out what the cost would be of moving the people in the Palace of Westminster out for a few years, and whether the money would be there given that we are in a severe economic downturn? Could the renovation of the Parliamentary buildings be included in the “stimulus” part of Mr Darling and Mr Brown’s rediscovered Keynesianism?

    Since the BBC’s moved part of its workforce to Manchester, might it be worthwhile to encourage Lords and MPs to try out more northerly climes for the interim?

  2. Senex
    28/11/2008 at 12:15 pm

    It really is time to move on and look at new Parliament buildings away from the river. I look forward to the day when the National Trust and/or English Heritage are able to take over the vacated buildings.

    One of the biggest problems for peers who open parts of their large rambling homes to the public is the cost of heating them. These costs can come in at over 60,000 GBP per quarter with no support from the state. On top of this is the maintenance of crumbling masonry and other building related work. Surely, the state can afford to give some assistance here in maintaining our national heritage.

    The National Trust I know from experience are very frugal with their own heating of buildings no doubt for similar reasons. If you visit any of their properties even in summer carry something warm to wear just in case.

Comments are closed.