Notre-Dame fire raises fears about Palace of Westminster | Politics News
There is a “huge” risk the Palace of Westminster could fall victim to a devastating fire like the one at France’s Notre-Dame cathedral, Jeremy Corbyn has warned.
The blaze at the Paris landmark has heightened fears about the risk of a similar tragedy unfolding at the Houses of Parliament.
There is a consensus that action is needed to safeguard the historic building, but there has been years of wrangling over the process and cost.
MPs and peers voted last year to leave Westminster to allow restoration work to be carried out, but the programme is not expected to start in earnest until the mid-2020s.
Mr Corbyn said the Notre-Dame fire should serve as a warning about the state of the Palace of Westminster.
He said: “The state of the building is very poor in Westminster and a fire risk is obviously huge with a building that has so much wood within it.”
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “It is important that the investment is made in the parliamentary buildings to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen again.
“That is why it is the right thing to do to be making the investments that are in order to ensure that such an iconic building such as the Palace of Westminster isn’t vulnerable to fire as well.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who was part of the joint committee of politicians from both houses which investigated the issue, called for action.
“We have taken far too long already putting our fire safety measures in place,” he said.
“Parts of the Palace are as old as Notre-Dame and we must make sure that every fire precaution is taken as the major work goes ahead.
“God knows we’ve had enough warnings.”
The report, released in 2016, noted “a substantial and growing risk of either a single, catastrophic event, such as a major fire, or a succession of incremental failures in essential systems which would lead to parliament no longer being able to occupy the Palace”.
Anna Turley, who is also a Labour MP, said she was shocked to discover the state the building was in when she was first elected in 2015.
“On my induction my ‘buddy’ was an engineer,” she said.
“He showed me the electrics – it looked a health and safety disaster (and fire) waiting to happen.”
Theresa May’s de-facto deputy David Lidington said a water leak in the Commons earlier this month was a stark reminder of the pressing need to address the issues.
“With each year that passes, the risk of a catastrophic fire grows,” he wrote in his local newspaper, the Bucks Free Press.
The Palace of Westminster was built in the mid 19th century after a fire in 1834 destroyed large parts of the old building. The medieval Westminster Hall survived.
Architect Charles Barry used cast iron and stone for the building itself, but the opulent interiors he created with Augustus Welby Pugin used large quantities of combustible materials.
The network of ventilation shafts and floor voids that were put in to aid ventilation had the unintended consequence of creating the ideal conditions for fire and smoke to spread throughout the building.
Fire safety systems are in place, but they are antiquated, with safety officers required to patrol the estate around the clock to spot signs of a fire.
A parliamentary spokesman said: “Fire safety is a key priority for Parliament and protections are constantly reviewed and updated including at our active construction sites.
“Last year, we completed a major programme of works to enhance fire safety measures in the Palace of Westminster, and while this work continues we stand ready to learn any lessons that emerge from the fire at Notre-Dame to ensure we do everything possible to protect our people and buildings on the Parliamentary Estate.”