Parliament’s underground secrets to be examined as small businesses appointed to next stage of restoration work

Engineers and construction experts planning the essential work to save the failing Palace of Westminster will soon be unearthing the 150-year-old building’s secrets as part of the next stage of detailed and in-depth investigations.

Investigators will carry out dozens of detailed building surveys, looking at historic stonework, digging boreholes to carry out underground examinations, carrying out archaeological digs, and mapping out asbestos in more detail.

Tens of thousands of hours of building surveys have already been carried out as the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Programme, set up in law to save and restore the building, develops a detailed plan that will for the first time set out costs and timescales for the essential work. Parliament will be invited to approve this detailed plan next year.

In recent months, surveyors have been looking at a range of issues, including crumbling stonework and cracking ceilings. Over the Christmas recess, dozens of experts surveyed hundreds of areas for potential asbestos. Next month, teams will carry out a further 19 studies over Parliament’s February recess period.

The next phase will see engineers and surveyors undertaking larger and more in-depth surveys to understand the condition of Parliament in far greater detail than ever before. This work is essential as the restoration programme develops the detailed and costed restoration plan which Parliament will be invited to approve next year.

Experts will dig around 20 boreholes to develop an understanding of the ground conditions at the Palace of Westminster to assist in ongoing design work. Elsewhere, building measuring devices will be installed across Parliament to monitor any structural movement. Specialist teams will continue to inspect the hundreds of miles of power cables, gas, water and heating pipes and sewerage, and further in-depth asbestos surveys will be carried out to build on existing records.

Specialist heritage teams are also getting on with the enormous task of recording and tagging every one of the 13,000 heritage items including furniture, artwork and statues, all of which will need removing and storing in controlled conditions during the programme of work to restore the Palace of Westminster.

Sarah Johnson, CEO of the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Sponsor Body said: “Our thorough and careful work to map out all the issues that need fixing within the Palace of Westminster is a vital part of the essential restoration of the 150-year-old building.”

David Goldstone, CEO of the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Delivery Authority, said: “Small businesses are at the heart of local economies, bringing growth, and innovation, so I’m delighted to be working with so many from right across the country as we carry out dozens more intensive surveys of the Palace of Westminster.

“The hard work of these specialists will be invaluable in developing the detailed plan for Parliament’s restoration and renewal that will for the first time set out the true costs of the work needed to save the building.”

Following a thorough procurement process, 18 businesses have been appointed to a commercial framework agreement, with around £10m of contracts expected this year to investigate the Palace as the detailed restoration plan continues to be developed.

Of the 18 businesses appointed, over two thirds (67%) are small to medium sized, showing the opportunity for firms of all sizes and from across the nation to be involved in the restoration of the Palace of Westminster.  In total, there are eight categories where suppliers have been appointed.

The categories are:

  • Civil Engineering / Structural
  • Ground Investigations & Geotechnical
  • Instrumentation & Monitoring
  • Environmental
  • Mechanical, Electrical & Public Health
  • Archaeology
  • Asbestos Removal
  • Conservation Contractor

The new framework agreement sets up the next tranche of more detailed and intrusive surveys which are an essential step in the development of a detailed and costed restoration and renewal plan for Palace of Westminster which Parliament will be invited to approve next year.

Despite the dedicated work of Parliament’s in-house teams, the building itself is falling apart faster than it can be fixed and needs a programme of essential restoration. The annual cost of maintenance and ongoing projects to keep the building operating continues to increase. Costs have doubled in just three years, to £127m a year – more than £2.5m a week. The National Audit Office recently stated that House authorities expect to spend another £308m on repairs and maintenance by 2025.

Over the summer and autumn of 2021, 50 highly skilled engineers, architectural surveyors, acoustics, lighting specialists and ecologists, spent a combined 4,700 hours visually inspecting the building. In total, 2,343 rooms and spaces were examined, with experts recording thousands of issues including cracks in stonework, widespread water damage, and analysing the complex network of outdated electrical and mechanical systems. Further surveying conducted throughout winter examined lighting levels, building risers and the presence of asbestos.

Throughout 2022 and 2023 hundreds of further in-depth surveys will be carried out, building on tens of thousands of hours of investigations already completed.

Individual survey contracts within the new framework are expected to be announced from March onwards, with building investigators on-site soon after.  Every supplier will go through the same rigorous security checks as existing Parliamentary contractors and suppliers.

The 18 successful suppliers scored highly (75%) on a new Government procurement measure aimed at levelling up, that considers the number of local jobs or apprenticeships a contractor will provide, the care they show the environment in their business practices, how they drive equal opportunity and the number of SMEs involved in their wider supply chain. The measure came into effect in January 2021 to promote new jobs and skills, encourage economic growth and prosperity, tackle climate change and level up the UK.

There will be many more opportunities for SMEs to get involved in the Restoration and Renewal programme, which is meeting business groups across the UK as it develops a commercial, procurement and skills development approach.

Restoring the building will create thousands of jobs across the UK, including through an industry-leading apprentice loan scheme that will see around 160 apprentices, including engineers, designers, stonemasons, and carpenters, employed by the organisations overseeing and delivering the restoration of the Palace of Westminster and loaned to UK businesses working on the restoration.