M&E services are key to Palace of Westminster refurbishment

Palace of Westminster

The poor condition of the buildings services and a lack of detailed knowledge about them are the reasons for the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster recommending that MPs, Peers and staff should move out temporarily [six years] so that a total refurbishment can be carried out. The palace has not had a major refurbishment of its M&E services since it was built in the mid-1800s, leading to a substantial and growing risk that a catastrophic event such as a major fire or incremental system failures will lead to the building becoming uninhabitable.

One of the expert witnesses was the then president of CIBSE, Nick Mead. His advice was that keeping part of the building operational throughout the works would be a significant challenge that would slow the programme down considerably.

He noted that because the M&E services were not fully charted, it would not be possible for engineers to tackle repairs in one area with any certainty that they would not affect services in other parts of the building.

The replacement of the M&E services alone will account for about 74% of the cost of the essential works. The remainder of the cost is likely to be required for heritage conservation and other work required to meet a minimum acceptable outcome — such as ensuring the palace complies with legislation relating to public buildings.

The current CIBSE president, John Field, welcomed the committee’s recommendation that both Houses of Parliament should be vacated for six years. He said, ‘Building services are an extremely important part of any building, and this report acknowledges that getting them right can be a matter of life and death. It is also very important that the whole-life performance of the renewed palace is carefully considered. The joint committee recognises that ensuring that we deliver a Parliament fit for the 21st century with good value to the electorate who fund it requires a systematic, whole-life approach to the project, which isn’t feasible in a situation where the MPs remain in place.’

Many of the services were last replaced in the late 1940s and reached the end of their projected lives in the 1970s and 1980s,

The report observes, ‘The patch-and-mend approach which has seen the building through the decades since then is no longer sustainable. Intervention on a much larger scale is now required.’

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