The independent London newspaper

Victorian Society ‘delighted’ with Parliament refurb

Director Christopher Costelloe say House of Commons car park could become a museum

02 February, 2018 — By The Xtra Diary

The Houses of Parliament

WHAT secrets are set to be unearthed in the Palace of Westminster in the coming years, as MPs and staff pack up their boxes and head to temporary accommodation while the place is given a £3.5billion once over, Diary wonders?

As any home owner knows, all manner of things show up unexpectedly when the builders move in, and considering parliament contains 1,100-plus rooms, three miles of corridors and 100 staircases over its eight acres, the mind boggles at the quirks of history that may be revealed…

To recap, this week the Commons had a free vote over the issue and the ayes in favour of moving out of the Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin-designed Mother of Parliaments won the day. They also agreed to set up a special delivery authority to oversee what is described as a “full and timely decant” from the Grade I-listed building.

And about time: last year, the Public Accounts Committee published a report on the “Restoration and Renewal” saying this is the move the MPs should go for and that further delays would just add to the already immense cost.

The issues with the building are well documented. It is in a horribly distressing state, as Christopher Costelloe, director of The Victorian Society, tells Diary.

Seven fires broke out in the past year as bodge-job wiring systems, ancient heating pipes, and vermin- infested tunnels have created a fire trap. More than 200 blocked toilets show the extent of the issues over the plumbing, and the historic fabric is crumbling.

“We are delighted – we were worried it would be delayed again and its future be put at risk. Yes, there has been some maintenance, but it has been so piecemeal,” he
says. “It is so heavily used, there has not been the time for it to be done. There have been lots of things, like putting in asbestos in the 1940s, that much will be making good previous mistakes. And every time there has been any rewiring or plumbing, they have not taken out what was there so it is a complete mess. You have such bad services in a timber building, they need 24-hour fire watches on patrol at the moment. Now they will be able to strip everything out and start afresh.”

He welcomed aspects such as removing concrete anti-terror blocks at entrances, plastic marquees for receptions on the terrace (“they are not of suitable quality”) and suggested the underground car park could become a museum telling the story of parliament. “Should so much room be given to cars, considering it has some of the best transport links in the country?” he adds. And for historians there is a sense of excitement as to what will be revealed.

“It will be an interesting opportunity to see beneath the skin of the building,” he concludes. “They will discover original decorative schemes, for example, that had been covered up. The Victorian Society and others will be keeping a close eye on the work.”

And finally, Mr Costelloe says the work, while expensive, will have  a hugely positive effect for craftspeople who work in historic restoration. “Working on a big project is a great way to train people up,” he adds. “The work will not start until 2025 and the amount needed will help companies along the supply chain. It will help bring in apprentices who will then go on and have 40-year careers.”


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