Bomb damage and pollution push up Big Ben repair cost
“Extensive” damage from Second World War bombs, pollution and asbestos in the Elizabeth Tower that houses Big Ben in London have conspired to increase the cost of repair work overseen by Sir Robert McAlpine by £18.6m.
The budget for the project will now need to rise to £79.7m, up from £61.1m to take account of the extra work required, which was only revealed when the project team started the first-ever intrusive surveys on the 177-year-old structure.
Examination of the 96m-tall tower has uncovered:
- Decay and damage to hundreds of intricate carvings
- Defects in previous work
- Asbestos in the belfry
- Extensive use of toxic lead paint
- Broken glass in the clock dials
- The need for a specialist clock expert
- Additional scaffolding
A spokesperson for the House of Commons Commission said that its members were “extremely disappointed” that more money was required but they had been assured no more money would be asked for in order to restore the tower.
They said: “It is very frustrating to learn that the Elizabeth Tower project requires yet more funding, having agreed an extra £32m in 2017.
“We have requested more detailed information about the lessons learned from this experience – as well as assurances that more robust estimates are prepared for works of this nature in the future.”
Ian Ailles, director general of the House of Commons, said the task of restoring the Elizabeth tower “had been more complex than we could have anticipated”.
“With a 12m square (130 square feet) footprint and a prime location right in the middle of a busy working Parliament, understanding the full extent of the damage to the Tower was impossible until the scaffolding was up.”
“Alongside other issues, such as the impact of often inappropriate conservation methods used by our predecessors, the corrosive levels of pollution in the atmosphere and the discovery of asbestos in unexpected places, we have only now been able to fully understand the full investment required for this project.”
Hundreds of specialist craftspeople from all around the UK are contributing to this conservation project, employing traditional trades, including stone masonry, gilding, glass cutting and horology.
If approved by the accounting officers of each House, a new budget of £79.7m will be set for the project’s completion. Work is on track for completion in late 2021.