Houses of Parliament 'could be the next Grenfell Tower', Black Rod warns

Written by Kevin Schofield on 22 December 2017 in News

David Leakey warns that the parliament buildings could "disintegrate in a puff of asbestos"

Westminster - Image credit: PA Images

The Houses of Parliament could go up in flames like "another Grenfell Tower" unless MPs agree to urgently refurbish it, the official in charge of its security has warned.

David Leakey – known as Black Rod – warned that the ancient building could "disintegrate in a puff of asbestos" if speedy action is not taken to modernise it.

He also said there could be "loss of life" just as at Grenfell, the west London tower block where 71 people perished in June.

Speaking as he retired after seven years in the role, Leakey told The House magazine said it would be "a disgrace to our nation" if Parliament was struck by a major fire because warnings about its safety went unheeded.

But it is his decision to compare the Palace of Westminster to Grenfell Tower which will raise eyebrows.

MPs are set to decide next year whether or not Parliament should decant to a new site while the multi-billion pound modernisation work takes place.

Leakey said: "I know what the risks are here. 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.

"And that’s the point. 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. We will again be accused of sitting on our hands.

"What an embarrassment and a disgrace it would be to our nation if our Parliament suddenly disintegrated in a puff of asbestos because the steam pipes burst in the cavities around this building and the electricity and the IT infrastructure went with them.

"And there could be a major fire, there could be loss of life. The state of the fabric of this building is a red risk – the highest risk you can have in your risk register in terms of the likelihood of something happening, and of the impact of the consequences."

The cost of renovating and refurbishing Parliament has been estimated at £4bn, but many expect the final bill to be far higher, especially if MPs decide to stay in the building while the work is carried out.

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