MPs criticise 'entirely bonkers' decision to silence Big Ben for four years

Renovation work means bell will stop ringing for the longest period in its history

Benjamin Kentish
Tuesday 15 August 2017 12:35
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Big Ben will fall silent on 21 August and not begin chiming against until 2021
Big Ben will fall silent on 21 August and not begin chiming against until 2021

Cross-party MPs have criticised the decision of parliamentary authorities to silence Big Ben for four years as maintenance work is carried out on the Elizabeth Tower that houses the bell.

Officials said the bell would stop ringing from next week in order to ensure the safety of workers completing the renovation.

However, MPs described the decision as “entirely bonkers” and “ridiculous”, with one pointing out that Big Ben had continued to ring even during the Blitz.

Conservative MP James Gray, who sat on the Administration Committee that first approved the work, told the Daily Telegraph he regretted the decision and said there had been no suggestion the work would mean Big Ben being silent for so long.

He said: "This is entirely bonkers. It is ridiculous to silence the bell for four years. I am very sceptical about the whole thing.

"What is the point in putting in a lift that will only go as far as three-quarters of the way up?"

Mr Gray said it was right that construction workers should be protected from the noise of the regular chimes but that the bell should not stop ringing completely.

He suggested Big Ben could continue to ring through the night.

"Big Ben is terribly important to the mental wellbeing of the nation,” he said. “Why can't it ring out from 5pm to 7am when building work has ceased for the day?"

Labour MP Stephen Pound claimed “health and safety” had achieved what the Luftwaffe could not.

"They kept the bells tolling through the Blitz,” he told the Daily Mail. “The Luftwaffe could not stop it but health and safety has. There has to be a way around this."

He later told BBC London: “It’s not about tourists wanting to hear this little bonging in the background - it’s reassuring, it’s a symbol of stability, it’s proof that we are one country. That sound ringing across the city, uniting all of us, is symbolically massively important.”

Mr Pound said he was not receptive to the idea that the ringing of the bell could be replicated by a big set of speakers, because “someone is bound to put Stormzy on instead”.

Big Ben will fall silent after sounding at noon on 21 August. The chimes will not begin again until 2021, expect for important public events such as New Year's Eve and Remembrance Sunday.

Repair work begins on the tower housing Big Ben

It will be the longest period the bell has been silenced in its 157-year history.

The 13.7-tonne bell did not ring for a short period during maintenance in 2007 and was halted for two years in 1983, but has never been silent for as long as four years.

Steve Jaggs, Keeper of the Great Clock, said: "Big Ben falling silent is a significant milestone in this crucial conservation project. As keeper of the Great Clock, I have the great honour of ensuring this beautiful piece of Victorian engineering is in top condition on a daily basis.

"This essential programme of works will safeguard the clock on a long term basis, as well as protecting and preserving its home - the Elizabeth Tower.

"Members of the public are welcome to mark this important moment by gathering in Parliament Square to hear Big Ben's final bongs until they return in 2021."

As well as conservation work to Elizabeth Tower, the Great Clock will be dismantled piece by piece and its four dials will be cleaned and repaired.

Additional reporting by PA.

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