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More money needed for Big Ben Conservation Project

13 February 2020

Image of UK Parliament portcullis

The discovery of extensive Second World War bomb damage, pollution and asbestos in the Elizabeth Tower that houses Big Ben has pushed up the repair bill by an additional £18.6m, parliamentary authorities have been told.

The full scale of the conservation, which is on track for completion in late 2021, was only revealed once the project team was able to begin intrusive surveys for the first time ever on the 177-year-old structure. 

The House of Commons and House of Lords Commissions were told that to restore the Tower to its previous splendour, the budget would need to rise from £61.1m to £79.7m.

A spokesperson for the House of Commons Commission said that Members of the Commission 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 to its former glory.

“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.”

Both Commissions heard that painstaking examination of the 96m (315 feet) tall iconic tower had 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

In 2017, work began to examine and repair the Tower from the gilt cross and orb at its tip, to the bottom of its 334-step staircase.

Many 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.


Image: Parliamentary Copyright/Jessica Taylor