UK parliament at risk of Grenfell-style disaster: building chief

London (AFP) –


Britain's Houses of Parliament are in danger of suffering from a Grenfell Tower-style disaster unless urgent repairs are undertaken, the outgoing official responsible for the building has warned.

The Palace of Westminster, home to the House of Commons and House of Lords as well as the famous clock tower, is at high risk of a major fire, according to David Leakey, Black Rod of Westminster, a post responsible for maintaining the palace's upkeep.

As he stood down after seven years in the role this week, Leakey urged lawmakers to back a speedy overhaul of the sprawling site to avert a potential catastrophe.

"I know what the risks are here," he told The House magazine.

"Knowing in detail that the expert recommendation is that you should do this quickly and now, not slowly over time in phases, I know that is necessary in order to prevent another Grenfell Tower happening here."

Leakey added: "If we don't learn the Grenfell lesson, this building could burn down, just like it did in 1834 when there was a decade of delay and procrastination about how or when to refurbish the building."

The blaze which engulfed the Grenfell Tower residential block in west London in June killed 71 people.

A parliamentary report last year recommended that lawmakers decamp from their two chambers for six years while the crumbling building is renovated extensively.

Four years of much-needed repairs are already under way on the site's clock tower, leaving the Big Ben bell's beloved chimes -- which feature on British television and radio news bulletins -- largely silenced since August.

But members of parliament have yet to decide on the details of the so-called restoration and renewal project, and are due to discuss it again in the new year.

The estimated cost of a full-scale overhaul -- £4.3 billion (?4.86 billion, 5.75 billion) -- has left lawmakers reluctant to sign off on the work, according to Leakey.

But he added that "the politicians have a more difficult problem."

"They will see it from the perspective of what is described as 'the Grenfell dynamic -- if we couldn't spend a few million on the cladding of a residential tower block, why should we be spending billions -- and it will be billions -- on refurbishing the parliament of this country?'"

Leakey said he sympathised with that perspective but urged politicians "to find the courage... to take the right decision, and stand by it."