Fears about the restoration of the Palace of Westminster have been raised in the wake of the catastrophic fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, France.
The fire has led MPs including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom to draw comparisons between the restoration work that was ongoing at Notre-Dame and the planned works at the Palace of Westminster.
The Palace of Westminster is set for a £3.5bn restoration of ageing systems as well as repairs to stonework. The programme is set to begin in the mid-2020s and will see the House of Lords and House of Commons vacate the building for an estimated period of six to eight years.
The cause of the Notre-Dame fire - which destroyed two-thirds of the 12th century building’s roof and toppled its 96m spire - has not yet been confirmed, however prosecutors have said that the restoration project is being investigated.
Corbyn said the blaze should be a wake-up call for the UK government.
“I’ve been in Notre-Dame cathedral several times. It’s absolutely stunning and beautiful and you can see the whole history of France before you there,” he said.
“You see beautiful buildings like that and think of the beautiful buildings we’ve got in this country. If any of those were destroyed in fire how would we feel about it? The state of the building is very poor in Westminster and a fire risk is obviously huge with a building that has so much wood within it.”
Meanwhile Leadsom said that the Notre-Dame fire was a “crucial reminder of the importance of preserving our historic buildings” and said fire risks in the Palace of Westminster were being constantly assessed.
One of the key parts of the programme involves updating antique steam systems, gas lines and water pipes, often laid one on top of another, alongside electrical wiring, broadcasting cables and other vulnerable equipment.
A Parliamentary spokesperson moved to calm the fears, pointing out that the Palace has recently undergone a revamp of its fire safety systems.
“Fire safety is a key priority for Parliament and protections are constantly reviewed and updated including at our active construction sites, and in planning for the future restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster,” the spokesperson said. “Last year we completed a major programme of works to enhance fire life safety measures in the Palace, 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.”
An investigation is currently underway in Paris, and prosecutors have confirmed that workers from roofing specialist contractor Le Bras Frères have been questioned as part of the investigation.
Le Bras Frères had won the contract to restore the Notre-Dame spire and were due to be on site for up to four years along with Europe Scaffolding, who had just erected 250t of scaffolding around the catherdral, along with a lift shaft for workers.
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