It’s difficult to get a good picture of the historic vista of the Palace of Westminster from any angle at the moment, with the building covered in swathes of plastic sheeting on scaffold frames.
The Palace is a Grade I listed building and, with Westminster Abbey and St Margaret's Church, forms part of the Westminster UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s a huge programme of restoration works underway to protect the heritage of the Palace of Westminster and ensure it can continue to serve as home to the UK Parliament in the 21st century and beyond.
One of the most iconic parts of the building, the Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben has been closed for the last two years for a complete conservation overhaul. It’s a multi-million pound project which has just been made that little bit more expensive by the discovery of extensive Second World Ward bomb damage, pollution and asbestos in the Tower.
In 2017, work began to examine and repair the Tower from the gilt cross and orb at its tip, to the bottom of its 334-step staircase. The full scale of what needed to be done was only revealed once the project team was able to begin intrusive surveys for the first time ever on the 177-year-old structure.
As anyone with an old house knows, it is usually the case that what appear to be a simple repair job often uncovers a heap of problems which all need to be fixed. Nothing is cheap, but in the Elizabeth Tower’s case, the last discoveries have pushed the repair bill up from £61.1m to £79.7m.
It’s a big ask, but as Big Ben is a key part of national celebrations, with its chimes booming out on occasions including Remembrance Sunday and on New Year’s Eve, it seems to be worth the extra spend. On a positive note, the conservation project has seen many hundreds of specialist craftspeople from all around the UK brought in to employ traditional trades, including stone masonry, gilding, glass cutting and horology.
I’m looking forward to the Elizabeth Tower being revealed in its conserved glory during my time at Westminster. If you want to see what it looks like at the moment, and see what else is being done to preserve this glorious palace, do get in touch with my office for a free tour.