Could Parliament Suffer The Same Fate As Notre Dame?

17 April 2019, 15:08

The Palace of Westminster could face a fire as devastating as the one that ravaged Notre Dame unless major improvements are made to the crumbling building, MPs have warned.

Politicians have acknowledged that action is needed to protect the Houses of Parliament but have spent years agonising over the best way to proceed and shrunk away from the billions of pounds required to restore the building.

A "restoration and renewal" programme is not expected to start properly until the mid-2020s after MPs and peers voted in early 2018 to leave the historic building to allow the work to be carried out.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who sat on a committee of parliamentarians which examined the issue, said: "We have taken far too long already putting our fire safety measures in place.

"Parts of the Palace are as old as Notre Dame and we must make sure that every fire precaution is taken as the major work goes ahead. God knows we've had enough warnings", said the Labour MP.

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington wrote earlier this month: "Electrical, plumbing, heating and sewerage systems are well beyond their expected working life span and in a dilapidated state. With each year that passes, the risk of a catastrophic fire grows."

Houses of Parliament
Picture: Skeeze, Pixalay

The Palace of Westminster was built in the mid-1800s as a purpose-built home for Parliament after a fire in 1834 destroyed large parts of the old building.

Architect Charles Barry used cast iron and stone to put fire safetey at the centre of his new Palace designs. However, the elaborate interiors he created with Augustus Welby Pugin used large quantities of flammable materials.

This, combined with a network of ventilation shafts and floor voids created to aid ventilation, have the unintended effect of creating ideal conditions for fire and smoke to spread throughout the building.

House of Parliament
Picture: Getty

A parliamentary spokesman said that fire safety is "a key priority" for Parliament and fire precautions are "constantly reviewed and updated".

The spokesman also said: "Last year, we completed a major programme of works to enhance fire life safety measures in the Palace of Westminster, and while this work continues we stand ready to learn any lessons that emerge from the fire at Notre Dame to ensure we do everything possible to protect our people and buildings on the Parliamentary Estate."