Parliament scheduled for repairs
UK lawmakers agree to leave during renovation
LONDON — This is not
a metaphor: Britain’s Parliament is a mess.
The 19th-century building is crumbling, leaky, infested with vermin and riddled with asbestos.
After years of dithering, lawmakers voted Wednesday to move out of the building to allow several years of major repairs. The plan will cost billions, but experts say the alternative could be catastrophic.
“This debate arguably should have taken place about 40 years ago,” House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom told lawmakers, adding that the building “is in dire need of repair.”
Legislators voted to back a call for lawmakers and staff to leave the building by the mid-2020s — a plan known as a “full decant” of Parliament. It’s estimated that the repairs will take six years and cost about $5 billion.
The decision came after warnings about the risks of delaying.
“It might be an exaggeration to say that Parliament is a death trap,” Conservative lawmaker Damian Green said. “But it’s not a wild exaggeration.”
Experts have issued increasingly urgent warnings about the state of the neo-Gothic Parliament building.
Reports have sounded alarm bells about leaky roofs, temperamental steam heating, antiquated plumbing, crumbling stonework and ventilation shafts clogged with old pipes, wires and asbestos.
Wednesday’s vote backed a 2016 report commissioned by parliamentary authorities which said the building is at risk of a flood or fire that could leave it uninhabitable. The issue still has to be considered by the House of Lords, Parliament’s upper chamber.
Caroline Shenton, former director of the parliamentary archives and author of “The Day Parliament Burned Down,” said that without major repair work, Britain could lose “the most iconic, famous building in the country.”
Despite the warnings, lawmakers had put off making a decision for several years. Some worried that the public would resent the expense. Traditionalists are reluctant to leave the historic Commons and Lords chambers, the subsidized bars and restaurants and the riverside terrace with its magnificent view across the Thames.
However, some modernizers think a permanent move to a new building would make politicians less out of touch with the people they serve.