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Palace of Westminster cost fears cloud judgement

The Victorian Society argues that the issues should be coolly considered after the next election.

The Palace of Westminster, London

The Palace of Westminster or the ‘mother of parliaments’ is the UK’s most famous building, a world heritage site, Grade I-listed and absolutely irreplaceable. However, the Speaker of the House of Commons warned this week that the time has come to make radical decisions about its future. However, the Victorian Society argues that the emotive uncosted estimate of £3 billion for restoration should not cloud judgments. Instead the issues should be coolly considered after the next election.

Christopher Costelloe, Director of the Victorian Society, said: ‘We understand that no politician will want to commit to spending billions on the Palace prior to the general election. However, talk of a £3 billion restoration bill without providing proper costings only serves to cloud people’s judgements. Proposals to use the Palace as a museum fail to take into account the maintenance which would still need to be carried out on the existing building as well as the cost of a new parliament building. After the election politicians should quickly decide how we save the Palace of Westminster. Losing the national’s most important Victorian building it is not, in reality, something that can be allowed to happen.’

The Victorian Society is open-minded about whether MPs and Lords leave the Palace during restoration, and how the works are organised. What matters is that this exceptionally important, high quality building at the heart of public life is preserved in the use it was designed for, on the site of a thousand years of Government. The Society is willing to provide any input necessary to help in this process.

In a speech to the Hansard Society, the Speaker, John Bercow, mentioned a figure of £3 billion for the restoration of the Palace of Westminster and reportedly warned that unless a ‘not inconsequential sum of public money’ was spent on the Palace over the next ten years the building may have to be abandoned by the 200th anniversary of the old palace of Westminster burning down in 1834.

That £3 billion figure reflects a BBC Newsnight story that several well-placed sources had stated that this was the ‘working assumption’ of the cost of restoration. However, a 2012 study by the Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Group, led by Dr Richard Ware, suggested that, subject to further study, renovating and modernising the Palace with a planned decant of MPs and Lords would require capital investment of £1.5 billion.  

Following a competition the Palace of Westminster was re-built to the architect Charles Barry’s designs with the interiors of other aspects designed by A.W.N Pugin. Construction began in 1840 at an estimated cost of £724,986.It was not until 10 years after Barry's death in 1860 that the new Palace was completed at a cost of over £2 million.

Wednesday 4 March, 2015

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