Unions urge action on Palace of Westminster refurb project

Several trade unions have slammed delays to the Palace of Westminster refurbishment project and called for Parliament to decide how its crumbling estate will be revived.

Lengthy delays around the renovation project are increasing the risk of a “catastrophic and potentially life-threatening incident”, representatives from the GMB, Unite and FDA unions warned in a letter to the body in charge of the project.

The project has faced numerous delays over the years, after indecision around whether the palace needs to be fully evacuated for the renovation to take place. In 2022, a government committee warned uncertainty over the project had caused more than £200m of unnecessary spending.

In the latest letter, which was sent to the Restoration & Renewal (R&R) project’s client board, the unions said they share “increasing concerns” around the slow progress of the project.

“Perhaps more pressingly, [we are concerned] about the short and medium-term viability of the parliamentary estate as a workplace for our members and others,” the unions added.

The three unions represent House of Commons staff members and the staff of “hundreds of MPs”.

“Ongoing delay over a decision increases the risk of a catastrophic and potentially life-threatening incident and forces our members to live with the consequences of a decade of political indecisiveness every day of their working lives,” they said in the letter.

They flagged a raft of safety concerns at the Palace of Westminster site, including legionella bacteria and asbestos, which were both found at the site in 2022. Construction News revealed at the time that 117 people were exposed to the asbestos.

The letter also referred to issues with the glass at Portcullis House. Last July, a glass panel cracked allowing 100 litres of water to fill the panel itself. In December, CN revealed the glass panels in the building’s roof will all need to be replaced.

There have also been widespread reports of water leaking into offices and heating and plumbing problems.

“We appreciate the efforts of the Houses to patch things up in the short term, but this is not sustainable,” the unions said.

In May, a parliamentary committee warned there was a “real risk” that the Houses of Parliament will be destroyed before restoration work has even begun at the site.

Parliament is currently considering a full decant, works taking place while the site is partly occupied, or “enhanced maintenance and improvement” instead. But the unions said a full decant is “the safest and most cost-effective” option.

In early 2022, the former sponsor body for the job warned the cost of renovation could rise from £13bn to £22bn if the site is not fully evacuated. It also warned it could take between 46 and 76 years to complete the job, in comparison to between 19 and 28 years if it is fully vacated.

CN approached the R&R for comment.

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