What it’s like to work in a crumbling palace

What it’s like to work in a crumbling palace
Copyright PIXABAY/luxstorm
By Vincent McAviney
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Euronews' UK Correspondent Vincent McAviney describes working inside the centuries-old Houses of Parliament in London, which is set to undergo a €4.5 billion refurbishment from 2025.


When you climb the stairs out of Westminster Underground station you can’t help but crane your neck up in awe to take in Big Ben and the ornate Palace of Westminster it towers over.

An iconic building recognised the world, parts of it date from the Norman invasion of 1066, other parts due to fire and Nazi bombing destroyed and rebuilt numerous times.

Whilst it’s packed with history it’s also a target, Catholic dissidents lead by Guy Fawkes have tried to blow it up and just last year it came under attack from islamist terrorism. It has increasingly become a fortress to the outside world but it’s biggest problem now lies within.

From a distance the Palace housing the House of Commons and House of Lords looks spectacular, move a little closer though and you’ll start to see the signs of decades of exposure to the elements. Cracked windows, rusting pipes and the faces of decorative statues worn out of focus.

I’ve worked in this building for much of the past 7 years, there are frequent power failures, burst pipes, leaking roofs and pest problems. You really are never far from a rat in the mother of all Parliaments.

It is a privilege to work in this Hogwarts-like place, just when you think you’ve seen all of it you turn a corner revealing a chamber or corridor filled with portraits and statues and are once again lost.

But there are serious structural worries about the building with its precarious perch on the Thames.

However MPs are worried, whilst they know the preservation work needs to be done they are split as Wednesday's vote shows. Some think if they move out of the Palace they will never be allowed back it, others worry about the symbolism of having to retreat from a crumbling Parliament whilst there’s such political turmoil.

The arguments about the renovation work have rumbled on over the past few years, suggestions that Parliament should go on tour around the country or perhaps relocate entirely to another city, perhaps Birmingham?

In the end they’ve decided to stay put, for in reality most MPs, Lords and the thousands of parliamentary staff don’t actually have their offices in the Palace but the other estate buildings connected by a network of tunnels. Temporary chambers will be built nearby for the Commons and the Lords.

Disruption minimised, the big concern though is cost. I’m writing this from the leafy, sunny atrium of Portcullis House, the last addition to Parliament built in the 1990s. Home to the most senior Minister and MPs it’s construction was plagued with problems going around £70,000,000 (€79,800,000) over budget.

The task ahead for the builders, electricians, carpenters and craftsmen is a daunting one and unique one. It’s a once in a lifetime job to restore the Palace but MPs, still haunted by the expenses scandal, will be watching the budget wary of looking self-indulgent in a time of austerity.

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