British parliament should decamp for £3.9 bn repairs: lawmakers


London (AFP)

Britain's lawmakers should move out of London's iconic Houses of Parliament for six years while the crumbling building is renovated to avert a crisis, a parliamentary report said Thursday.

Behind its neo-Gothic facades topped by the world-famous Big Ben tower, the mother of parliaments has been eroded by air pollution and is overrun with mice, prompting warnings that it may have to be permanently abandoned unless urgent renovations are carried out.

Set up in July 2015, the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster recommended Thursday that MPs from the House of Commons move into the nearby Department of Health building, warning of the growing risk of a "catastrophic event."

The House of Lords -- Britain's upper chamber -- should move to the less grandiose surroundings of the nearby Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, the committee said, recommending the move take place between 2022 and 2028.

"The Palace of Westminster, a masterpiece of Victorian and medieval architecture and engineering, faces an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore," said the report.

"It is impossible to say when this will happen, but there is a substantial and growing risk of... a catastrophic event, such as a major fire.

"If both houses fully vacated the palace this would take the least time and would avoid disruption to parliament from construction works," it concluded.

- Leaky roofs -

If lawmakers were to move, it said the cost of renovations would be around £3.9 billion ($5.2 billion, 4.6 billion euros), compared with £6 billion if the work took place around parliamentarians.

Many of the vast building's roofs are prone to leaks, asbestos is a constant hazard and even the famous clock tower leans 46 centimetres (18 inches) off the vertical.

Rodents are frequently spotted scurrying around the members' tea room, while MPs complain of cramped working areas and faulty heating.

Work would also include including rewiring, and updating the Victorian facilities.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow warned that parliament could have to move for good within 20 years unless major renovations take place in the next decade.

The Houses of Parliament, designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, were completed in 1870 and are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Although a fire in 1834 destroyed most of the old Palace of Westminster and parts of the Commons had to be rebuilt after World War II due to bomb damage, there are still some areas which date back to the 11th century.

The repair plans are likely to prove controversial, with the British taxpayer footing the huge bill at a time of public spending cuts.