The Palace of Westminster, the iconic London landmark where the British Houses of Parliament convene, is "on the verge of collapse," a prominent Labour lord has warned, amid fears that the building risks losing its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In a debate in the House of Lords on 26 November, Lord Maxton said he feared the building, one of the most famous landmark and tourist sites in London, is “close to a major catastrophe." He called on the government to relocate members of the Houses of Commons and Lords to a new parliament permanently, preserving Westminster Palace as a historical building and touristic attraction.
The peer’s warning came in a debate initiated by the former Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd, in response to UNESCO’s decision to put the building on its danger list of world heritage sites due to what Boothroyd said was the large number of high-rise towers planned to be built along the nearby South Bank.
Maxton stated that the current poor condition of the historical building was due to a backlog of major repairs. Significant work has long been underway to repair the building.
It is understood that one of the mains objectives of the repairs is to remove asbestos which was banned by law in 1999 after it it was proven to cause serious and sometimes fatal lung disease.
Westminster Palace was the site of a medieval royal palace, the primary London residence of the English monarchs from the eleventh century until the sixteenth century. Much of the complex was destroyed by a fire in 1834, and the iconic building of today was completed in 1870 on the same site, incorporating the surviving older structures.
During the debate, held last night, Boothroyd said she is not just worried about the state of the building but also the surrounding area. She warned that the building is in danger of losing its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site "because of plans to build new glass tower blocks directly opposite, on the other side of the River Thames".
“We face the prospect of being de-listed as a fully protected part of our national and world heritage," she said. Conservative Lord Cormack expressed his hope that repair work could be done without peers and MPs having to move out.
"The long-term solution must be the preservation of this place as a symbol of our democracy and for the enjoyment of our people and people around the world," he said, adding "these buildings are a priceless asset and they must be preserved and enjoyed."
Representing the government in the debate, Lord Gardiner of Kimble said that "the government will continue to work with UNESCO, emphasising our commitment to preserving Westminster's palace."
He added that a report on the long-term renovation of the building was due next year and would focus on the "substantial remedial work" required.