‘Huge risk’ of UK parliament suffering Notre Dame-type fire, MPs warn

‘With each year that passes, the risk of a catastrophic fire grows’

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 16 April 2019 11:27
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Notre Dame fire: What we know so far

MPs have warned that the Palace of Westminster could suffer a similar fate to Paris’s Notre Dame unless urgent action is taken to address major fire risks.

The historic cathedral was devastated on Monday night as flames tore through its roof, bringing the steeple crashing down and leaving smoke pouring across the Paris skyline.

The blaze prompted fears that many of the UK’s own historic buildings could be vulnerable to a similar fire.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said there were “huge” risks of a fire engulfing the Palace of Westminster.

He said: “I’ve been in Notre Dame Cathedral several times. It’s absolutely stunning and beautiful and you can see the whole history of France before you there.

“You see beautiful buildings like that and think of the beautiful buildings we’ve got in this country. If any of those were destroyed in fire, how would we feel about it? 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.”

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is reported to be planning a bid to become the next House of Commons speaker, said: “We have taken far too long already putting our fire safety measures in place. 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.”

Another Labour MP, Anna Turley, said she was given a tour of the palace when she became an MP and that the electrical wiring “looked a health and safety disaster [and fire] waiting to happen”.

MPs and peers are due to move out of the Palace of Westminster in 2025 to allow for a major six-year renovation programme.

Teams of fire wardens have to patrol the building to minimise risks but even this has not prevented a handful of fires beginning in the palace each year.

Reports on the state of the building have consistently warned of fire risks, falling masonry, faulty wiring, vermin infestations and asbestos.

Writing for his local newspaper earlier this week, Theresa May’s deputy, David Lidington, said it was “very lucky no one has been seriously injured” in Westminster.

He wrote: “The electrical, plumbing, heating and sewerage systems are well beyond their expected working lifespan and in a dilapidated state. With each year that passes, the risk of a catastrophic fire grows.”

Most of the Palace of Westminster was built between 1840 and 1870 after a fire in 1834 destroyed much of the previous building. Some parts are older, including the including historic Westminster Hall, which dates back almost 900 years.

Moving video shows crowd singing Ave Maria amid Notre Dame fire as sun goes down in Paris

A parliamentary spokesperson 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.”

They added: “Health, safety and wellbeing, including fire safety, will remain the highest priority.”

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